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CIRCUS & ENTERTAINMENT: Memory Book of a Young Female Member of an Early Bicycle Acrobat Troupe



A memory book of a circus artist Käthe Derrington, active in the early 20th century as one of the first female bicycle circus performers, includes many distinct entries by various famous circus and theatre artists from Europe and Asia.

1 in stock


8°, [44] manuscript in pen and pencil, photographs and drawings in pencil, pen and water-colour within text, mounted dried flowers within text, original puprple velvet binding with elaborate metal pieces, staples (Very Good, slighty age-toned, some leaves loose, binding slightly rubbed).


This unusual beautifully composed memory book bears entries by various European and Asian circus performers, in German, English and Asian languages. The book belonged to one of the first female bicycle circus artist Käthe Derrington, who was a part of a troupe called the Derrington Family, preforming acrobatic acts on bicycles. The owner is not signed, but is referred to in the text.

The entries were made between 1899 and 1907. The first note on the first page, was made by the owner’s mother, dated September 6, 1899, in Berlin in German language. In the next three years entries were made by Käthe’s teachers and friends, when we can assume, the young girl was schooled in Halle in Germany.

Most probably Käthe Derrington joined her family’s acrobatic bicycle act as a teenage girl in 1902, when entries of her other family member appear, followed by entries by circus and theatre actors, made in North Europe in the next five years. Many hand written dedications in the memory book refer to its owner with affectionate notes as Käthe (Cathy), or little Käthe, and often hint she is very young.

Käthe probably retired from the circus industry in her late teens or early twenties.

This memory book gives a detailed view into a life of a young female circus artist in the beginning of the 20th century.

Notes with autographs, and sometimes portrait photographs, were made by several famous circus artists:

–       The Moroccan circus artist Hadj Ali ben Mohamed (1863-1914), who received an American citizenship in 1903, attached his portrait photo with the dedication in English.

–       Two entries were made by the touring Japanese circus group Riogoku Family, which wrote a dedication in Japanese and attached postcard size photographs.

–       A famous female lion tamer Claire Heliot (1866-1953) inserted her photograph with a lion to hand-written verses and a dedication in Cologne in 1906. This famous performer, whose lithographed portraits with lions decorated early 20th century posters and match boxes, was attacked by a lion in 1907. After that she retired to Stuttgart, where she died in 1953.

–       Members of the famous Lorch Family: Jeanette (1879-1954), with a photograph, Hedwig (1890-1966), with a photograph, Helene (b.1883), with a photofraph, Eugen (1885-1943), Arthur (1881-1942). The Lorch Family, was a highly respected Jewish circus family, active in the late 19th and beginning of the 20th century in Europe and the United States. At the time of the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, they were forced to bankruptcy in 1930. During WWII members of the family had to hide. Brothers Arthur, Eugen (both signed here) and Rudof were murdered in Auschwitz.

–       Other entries include notes, poetry and autographs by various circus and theatre artists such as members of the acrobat Déprient Family, Hadj Mohamed Ben Medani, a Japanese artist Hiramoto, who wrote a dedication in Japanese, and decorated it with a full page illustration and his photograph, the actor Richard Hungar (1860-1909), who draw his full size portrait, Alfred Heinen (i. e. Alkfred Levy, 1880-1943), Rose d’Arkansas, and others.

Verses and dedications were also written by the family members

–       Brother Bruno Derrington, who carried on the family name in the circus business until the late 1930s, after other family decided to retire (with a photograph),

–       Sister Elfriede Derrington, who was probably the second female performer in the family circus bicycle act.

–       Brothers Otto and Arno, probably other two brothers in the circus troupe.

–       Käthe’s mother (first entry, dated September 6, 1899) and Father Heinrich Grosse-Derrington (1902), an acrobat, who was the first one to introduce a bicycle show to the circus in late 19th century.



The Derrington Family – An Early Bicycle Acrobat Troupe.


Not much is known about the Derrington Family and their story can be reconstructed through short articles in books, ads, playbills and information from this memory book.

The first bicycle act was invented by Heinrich Grosse-Derrington (1861-1942), who introduced the bicycle act to the circus. In the first years of the 20th century the bicycle show was taken over by his five children, who performed under a name The Derrington Family.

The family consisted, according to the illustration mounted in this book, of three young male and two female members, of which one was Käthe, the owner of this memory book. The others were her brothers and a sister, who made entries in the book: Elfriede, Bruno, Arno, and Otto.

In 1906, Bruno Derrington became the first circus performer to introduce an act on a tandem bicycle, depicted in our book.

The troupe was active from circa 1901, when the all the family members were old enough to preform, until circa 1907, when four of five members most probably decided to (partly) retire from the life of a touring act. We can presume the two sisters, Käthe and Elfriede, who at the time had to be in their late teens or early twenties, most probably retired to raise a family.

After that we could only trace Bruno Derrington as an active performer. In 1915 until circa he is recorded in a duet Bruno & Riepel, and until mid 1920s as a bicycle artist under the name Bruns or Der Pirouettenköning (The Pirouette King). In 1919 he made 125 pirouettes on the back wheel of his bicycle in a circus in Leipzig.

In 1931 Bruno Derrington was preforming in Europe together with his female assistant Pauly, showcasing similar acrobatic tricks with a bicycle as at the beginning of the century (Figaro: journal non politique, Jan 14 1931). Around 1938 Bruno Derrington founded his own circus group, called “Circus Variété Bruno Derrington”. We could not find any other information on the lives of other members.

Käthe Derrington, active between circa 1902-1907 was probably one of the earliest female circus performers on bicycle. Cycling as a female sport and exercise did not start developing until mid 1890s, when alongside with development of female emancipation and suffragettes, who saw a bicycle as one of the symbols of female liberation.

Articles and books of the time, on the other hand, saw female riding a bicycle as damaging for health and highly immoral because of the biking pants, which were more suitable for biking as fashionable long skirts, but resembled female underwear.

The first female circus performers on bicycles started appearing around 1900. The first female bicycle performance in the United States was made in 1902 at the Barnum & Bailey’s Circus, after their tour of Europe, where they encountered similar circus acts.



References: Taschenbuch der Künste. Unterhaltungskunst A-Z, 1975, p. 61; Öffentliche Lustbarkeiten im Ruhrgebiet der Jahrhundertwende, 1992, p. 325; Lhoussain Simour, Recollecting History beyond Borders: Captives, Acrobats, Dancers, 2014, p. 136; Hilary Angus, Three Women who Changed the Course of History On Bicycles, 2015 (https://momentummag.com/three-women-changed-course-history-bicycle); Katherine H. Adams – Michael L. Keene, Women of the American Circus, 1880-1940, 2012, pp. 196ff.


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