Brunswick's Circus Girl

By Wayne L. Youngblood (first published Linn's Stamp News June 2017)

It’s not often any of us can boast having an item “missing from even the most advanced collections,” but such is the case with the stamp shown in Figure 1, the rare Brunswick Circus Girl 1-groschen stamp, a clever and well-executed vintage spoof of the genuine stamp shown in Figure 2. These items rarely, but occasionally, pop up in old collections. They are frequently mistaken by the unobservant as the genuine or – worse – tossed out as a so-called “album weed,” a derogatory term reserved for fakes, forgeries and other spurious creations of philatelic shysters. The genesis of the Circus Girl, however, is much more innocent and fun-loving, and she is far more desirable now than the stamp she parodies. Few, however, know of the Circus Girl’s origin.

Figure 1.JPG

Figure 1. The so-called Brunswick Circus Girl stamp, now rarely seen.

During the waning years of the 19th century, it was not unusual for philatelic journals to include samples of actual postage and revenue stamps, facsimiles and reproductions. These publications – aimed primarily at young collectors – tried to outdo each other on a regular basis. Most often, philatelic souvenirs obtained by these journals were hinged or mounted directly on pages of the publication as a benefit (or sometimes novelty) for regular readers.

The original Brunswick stamps, superseded in 1868 by those of the North German Confederation, were released in 1865 as a set of four values featuring the leaping Saxon horse as the central vignette, surrounded by scrollwork and the denomination (½, 1, 2 or 3 groschen). The stamps were embossed and bear serpentine roulettes measuring about 16¼ on a standard perforation gauge. Of the set, the most common is the 1gr carmine in unused condition, which frequently can still be purchased for a dollar or less.

Figure 2.JPG

Figure 2. The 1-groschen Brunswick stamp of 1865, which the Circus Girl mimics.

The Circus Girl stamp, also printed in carmine, bears a 1gr denomination and has straight rouletting that measures closer to 17. It is not embossed. The design is very similar to the original, but features a girl standing on the horse’s back, the horse apparently leaping toward a hoop.

Der Philatelist, a German-language publication produced in Dresden, Germany, for a number of years surrounding the turn of the 19th century, created the Circus Girl as an amusement for its readers. Headlined “Gratis Beilage” (Free Supplement), for its July 15, 1892, issue, a short tongue-in-cheek caption accompanied the stamp. That caption read (roughly translated): “Because, under no circumstances do we wish to lag behind other philatelic journals, we have decided in this issue to give a treasured art supplement. We hope, with this special item, to fill what has been a very difficult stamp.”
I’m not aware of what the circulation of this journal was in 1892, but it likely was not terribly large. Even 14 years later, in 1906, the stamp was not well known. The Feb. 3, 1906, meeting of the British Junior Philatelic Society makes mention of the Circus Girl – a gathering not attended by the club’s president, Fred J. Melville, who would later become extremely well known for his book, Phantom Philately, “a descriptive list of stamps that are not what they seem.” At that meeting, a Mr. A.B. Kay displayed a portion of his collection of forgeries. In that showing, Mr. Kay produced an example of the Circus Girl, “keenly scrutinized” and much to the merriment of the members.

Today, the Circus Girl still amuses, but is rarely ever seen by anyone other than Cinderella specialists.