Collector Spotlight: One collector displays his love for the circus

My name is Pete Adams. I am 67 years old and have been a circus fan all my life.

As a small child, my annual birthday gift from my parents was a trip to see the Shrine Circus, known then as the Polack Bros. Circus. For more than 50 years I got to see the Shrine Circus every year. 100_5949 QU 2-1.jpgIn addition, I would go with my parents to see the “big one,” the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus whenever it played near our home in Baltimore.

At the Peru Amateur Circus in Peru, Ind., Adams visits with two new Circus Youth Members Shelby Bakehorn and Shelby Hall.

In 1977 I ran into a circus model at a county display similar to an Agricultural Fair. That’s where I found out about circus organizations and was invited to join the CFA (Circus Fans Association of America). I am a member of the Circus Model Builders International and the Circus Historical Society too, but always claim my first love as the CFA. It is here that the collecting bug first bit me.

I was a teacher of math in junior and senior high schools in Maryland, then a high school administrator for 22 years. When I retired from the school system, I became a travel agent, then director of operations and marketing director.

100_6663 QU 2-1.jpgWhen I decided to retire for a second time after 20 more years, my wife and I moved from Columbia, Md., to Sarasota, Fla., where I could be near my hobby – the circus.

Pete and Shirley Adams visited the cast of the Wenatchee Youth Circus in Washington State.

My wife and I have been active behind the scenes, helping circuses when they visit my area. We regularly attend circuses no matter how small or large, whether in a tent or in a building, next-door or 100 miles away and support them by volunteering where needed. We are in charge of the novelty program for the Sailor Youth Circus in Sarasota, Fla. Both my wife and I usher for the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art Theatre as well as for Circus Sarasota and the Showfolks Circus. We take volunteering seriously, as we have all of our lives.

My collection consists of posters and lithography, books, programs and other printed matter. I have 800 circus books in the collection as well as more than 3,500 posters and lithos. The collection has grown over the years.

I don’t have any favorite pieces in my collection. For a long time I was looking for items from the Adam Brothers’ Circus, but was unsuccessful. This may not have been the most successful show, but it had my name on it! Several years ago I got to meet the owner and got several pieces with varying titles including Don and Pete Intro the 137th QU 2-1.jpgAdams-Sells and Adams-Seils Bros., neat additions to my collection. I do have several posters and lithos that are signed from outstanding performers as well as circus owners.

Photo of Pete Adams, CFA President, and Don Curtis, Past President, Opening the performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Hershey Pennsylvania for the 137th edition.

I use eBay to find things for my collection, and get some things from private collectors or antique stores and flea markets. The CFA and the CHS hold annual auctions, which allows me to expand my collection. Yes, it is always growing.

I once ran into a unique opportunity at an antique shop in Baltimore when a dealer held a valuable circus poster collection, but desperately needed funds. He sold me the collection at a very reasonable price. Another time I bought a box of posters sight unseen at an auction; the lot ended up having more than 150 items, all of which had unique statements on them such as BUY WAR BONDS or NOW AIR COOLED. It was a wonderful deal.
Ironically, the circus model I first saw in 1977, is now part of my model circus collection; I purchased it in the 1990s.

I often display pieces from my collection at antique shows, malls, hotel lobbies, libraries and museums such as the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota and wherever invited.

My other interests include photography and I write extensively for White Tops, a publication for fans and friends of the circus. I have served as the public relations director for the Circus Fans Association of America, which is made up of about 1,800 people from around the world who strive to support the circus as a worthwhile program for families and children of all ages. As president of the organization for the last year, my goal was to bring more young people into our organization, which I have accomplished, through scholarships for new members.

Collecting circus memorabilia is a hobby I enjoy greatly. Fortunately for me, I have received programs, posters and other memorabilia from some wonderful circus owners and managers over the past 30 years and I treasure those relationships.