A postally used advertising envelope for P. T. Barnum’s very first real circus. Don Castello P. T. Barnum, W. C. Coup.

A postally used advertising envelope for P. T. Barnum’s very first real circus

[Probably New York City or Bridgeport, Connecticut]: circa 1871. Envelope or Cover. This advertising cover is franked with a target-cancelled three-cent Washington Stamp (Scott #65) and addressed--perhaps in Barnum's hand--to Worcester, Massachusetts.

The text reads, “P. T. Barnum’s Broadway / American Museum and Menagerie / & Dan Castello’s Mammoth Circus / W. C. Coup, General Manager. / Dan. Castello, Circus Manager” and is embellished with a crocodile, snake, guitar-playing bear, seal, and other oddities."

In the morning of 3 March 1868, a fire at 53-year-old P. T. Barnum’s New York Museum forced him into retirement after thirty-three years in the entertainment business. About two years later, he was contacted by two circus-men, William C. Coup and Dan Castello, who were interested in capitalizing upon his name to promote their already profitable new circus.

Coup, a one-time ticket-taker for Barnum, and Castello, who had recently sold his share as the co-owner of a travelling circus, had purchased eight of the remaining Bactrian camels from the U. S. Army’s abandoned Camel Corps experiment and used them to form the basis their new show, “Dan Castello’s Great Circus & Egyptian Caravan” which also contained 42 horses and fourteen wagons. Barnum initially refused the team’s offer, insisting he was retired, but Coup was insistent, and eventually overcame Barnum’s reluctance after promising to “come home with a fortune at the end of the season.”

Barnum was a hands-off investor, who allowed Coup and Castello to run the show, although he insisted they include his son-in-law as an assistant treasurer to protect his interests. The first public notice of Barnum’s involvement was in February of 1871, and with Barnum’s investment Coup and Castello acquired enough exotic animals to fill 30 cages and 100 wagons. Barnum also chipped with sideshow acts from his old friends including a giant, a bearded-lady, an armless girl, and a sleeping woman.

The show opened in Brooklyn in April of 1871 under two gigantic tents, and the New York Times reported, “Brooklyn can congratulate herself on having witnessed the earliest exhibition of Mr. Barnum’s Combination Museum, Menagerie, and Circus” after which, the show soon acquired the sobriquet “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

Coup and Castello left the partnership in 1875 to establish a Centennial Circus for the celebration of 1876, and Barnum continued running his circus alone until he took on a new partner in 1881, James Anthony Bailey whose business and promotional acumen took the renamed “Barnum and Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth” to levels previously unimagined by Coup, Castello, and probably even Barnum. Very good. Item #009564

One of only two reported. An addressed (in the same hand as this envelope), but unfranked and uncancelled tattered envelope sold at a 2010 Leslie Hindman auction along with a separate Barnum note for $488. This exact cover sold for $900 at a Siegel Auction in 2013. Hindman states that these envelopes were printed by George Wood, a Barnum associate who operated “Wood’s Museum and Menagerie” in New York City.

Price: $750.00

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