ODN Item of the Week: Strobridge Lithography Co. Circus Posters

Lithography is a printmaking technique, developed in the 1700s, based on the properties of oil and water. A water resistant medium is applied to a smooth surface such as stone or a metal sheet and the surface is treated with an acidic liquid that etches the uncovered areas, leaving the artist’s original design available to be rolled with ink and pressed to paper to create the lithograph print.

Introduction to Lithography video, courtesy Khan Academy

Originally developed to print materials for the theater, lithography has become an art form in its own right. Used to print advertisements and posters before the age of more commercial and high volume printing methods, lithographs of the past serve as historical documents but also beautiful works of art that happen to lend themselves very well to viewing online in digital collections.

One such collection is available thanks to the work of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County – the Strobridge Lithographing Company Circus & Theater Posters. In the almost 150 years they were in business, the Strobridge Lithographing Company’s posters and advertisements reached around the world. Work from their offices in Cincinnati, New York City, and even London advertised products, theater bills, and circus acts – especially for The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey.

While circus and theater acts have evolved and changed over the years, we are lucky to be able to appreciate these posters as a record of entertainment and artistic styles and trends of the past. You can see this poster and more right now at DPLA – bring your own popcorn and cotton candy!