University of Saskatchewan
  Andrew King Posters


In 1909 Andrew King (1885-1981) purchased The Enterprise, a  weekly newspaper serving the booming hamlet of Rouleau, Saskatchewan, 50 km southeast of Moose Jaw on the CPR Soo Line. Like other newspaper operators King supplemented the often meager revenue from subscriptions and advertising by printing small posters and stationary. His business was transformed in 1912 when the agent of a theatrical company arrived in Rouleau to book the town hall and post advertisements for a local engagement.Andrew King 

During a three day delay awaiting the arrival of posters from an American printer, the agent persuaded King that he might build a profitable side business supplying traveling  shows, particularly circuses, with the printed materials they needed for their advertising.  Starting with a few  orders from companies playing in Rouleau, King learned through reading, consultation and experimentation how to adapt and expand the rather primitive technology he had at hand to the needs and traditions of American showmen. 

Most of King’s show posters were printed from large hand carved woodblocks and oversized type prepared by King and his assistants. The majority of the posters utilized the printing of three ink colours – yellow, red, and blue. Some of the earlier poster images were “appropriated” from the work of other printers and designers; later King employed Herb Ashley, a talented illustrator in Banff, to realize his design ideas in coloured drawings.

By 1919 Enterprise Show Print was a major player in the show print business shipping posters to many of the leading circuses touring Canada and the American West and Midwest. King soon generated  more business by sending  catalogues featuring his stock posters to the organizers of local sports days, rodeos, agricultural fairs and exhibitions across Canada. Beyond King’s remarkable determination and organizational abilities, a key factor in his success was Rouleau’s location on the Soo line, which provided him easy access to his customers through the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway.  

In 1944 the business now renamed King Show Print moved to Estevan where King had purchased the Estevan Mercury. The  show print business operated successfully until 1958 when it was disbanded by British investors who had purchased the Mercury.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries traveling circuses were among the biggest and most innovative of entertainment promoters. Faced with the formidable task of marketing its show in hundreds of towns each year, circuses pioneered the strategy of saturating small communities with print advertising. They filled every possible corner using window cards, posters on telephone poles, and multi-sheet giant billboards plastered on farm barns that could as King said “be seen a mile away”.

King believed that a picture was worth a thousand words and his designs included a minimum of text. Their characteristic features  were one or two brightly coloured and dramatically drawn figures appropriate to the event – a charging  animal, a clown , or  circus midway. The objective was to immediately capture the attention and to entice viewers to an event completely outside their daily experience.

The Special Collections Department of the University of Saskatchewan Library has developed a representative collection of posters by this printing pioneer. For more information on King and his work please investigate the Andrew King website of the Estevan Art Gallery and Museum which holds the largest public collection of Enterprise and King Show Prints.

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Andrew King’s engraving and printing of three color circus posters in the nineteen twenties, thirties and forties mark him as an artist and a major figure in Western Canadian and North American printing history.
- Douglas Lochhead, Canadian poet and printing historian.
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