Freakshow posters

Share

  • Intro

    Exhibitions of live human curiosities had appeared in travelling fairs, circuses and taverns in England since the 1600s. These included so-called giants, dwarves, fat people, the very thin, conjoined twins and even people from exotic climes. Freak shows were a particularly popular form of entertainment during the Victorian period, when people from all classes flocked to gawp at 'unusual' examples of human life. These posters from the 1870s show the kinds of acts that were on offer.

     

    Novelty acts relied a great deal on shock, therefore performers were not revealed in the flesh to audiences until money had changed hands. Titillating publicity was crucial, as the people described in these adverts often bore little resemblance to what lay behind the curtain or turnstile. Exaggerated and stylised illustrations lent age to dwarf acts, stature to giants, and plausibility to mermaids and bear boys. The advertisers of these shows aroused the curiosity of the audience by overplaying, often entirely inventing, 'true life' stories.

     

    The audio extract here is from the journal Living London in 1902. 

    Shelfmark: Evan 201, 2682, 295

  • Video

  • Audio

    Can't play the file above? Listen to the audio clip here

Find out more about the Freakshow posters Here

Explore more timeline content: