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Archie Royer, Sr. Collection

Identifier: RH-A-4037

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of 12 letters from Archie Royer, a former circus clown and Van Buren County resident, to his friend and fellow circus performer Bert Cole in New York. The collection also contains two pages of poems apparently composed by Royer, and a drawing with writing in Spanish.

The letters in this collection detail Royer’s life on his farm in the 1940s. They range in date from November 1941 to July 1948. They are all addressed to Bert Cole (1875-?), a friend whom Royer presumably met while touring with the Cole and Lockwood Circus in 1894. Cole was the son of one of the circus’ directors, and also served as the circus treasurer. He lived in New York at the time the letters were written. Royer’s letters all generally follow the same formula. Royer opened the letters with a description of the state of his farm and garden. He often gave lengthy lists of everything he had planted, harvested, and canned. He then turned to the subject of his and his family’s health and wellbeing. He commented many times on Mizpah’s poor health, and alluded several times to his own aging body. Royer usually closed his letters with nostalgic sentiments of his old circus days. Nearly every letter contains some reflection on his glory days and shows Royer’s desire to relive them.

Occasionally Royer expressed his opinions about contemporary political and social events. However, he often displayed racism in his comments. For example, he wrote about World War II a handful of times, and referred to the Japanese people as “Japs” on each occasion. Royer also wrote to Cole twice about African American neighbors who had recently moved into his community. Royer repeatedly referred to them using derogatory terms and expressed surprise at finding them “respectfully kind.”


  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1869-1956


Biographical / Historical

Archie Royer (1869-1956) was a circus performer who was born in Pennsylvania. He performed across the country with companies such as Ringling Brothers, Walter Main, and Cole and Lockwood throughout the 1890s and into the first decade of the twentieth century. Royer also lived and performed in England from 1908-1913 with his wife Mizpah Selbini (1887-1955). Upon returning to the United States, Royer and his wife continued to perform, but eventually settled on a farm in Bangor, Van Buren County, Michigan. They remained there until their deaths.


1 boxes

Language of Materials


Physical Description

The collection measures .05 cubic feet. The majority of the collection is made up of 12 letters. The letters vary in size from 41/4” x 71/2” to 87/16” x 13”. Most of the letters, however, are written on paper measuring 81/2” x 11”. Most of the letters have been folded multiple times, and there is some tearing on the fold lines. The letters are otherwise in good condition, though delicate. One letter written on very thin paper is especially delicate and has therefore been reinforced with barrier paper.

The handwriting is generally easy to make out, and the ink is not faded. However, the grammar and syntax Royer uses make the meaning of some sentences difficult to decipher. Most of the letters take up more than one page of writing. Some are written on the front and back of one page, while others use multiple pieces of paper. About half of the letters come with envelopes, which have been clipped to their respective letters. Many of the envelopes feature drawings of a clown’s face, with some variation of the phrase “Archie Royer Old Time Circus Clown” written below. Some envelopes have been saved that are without letters. For example, two envelopes with 1943 postmarks have been attached to the back of a letter fragment. It is not clear if the letter fragment belongs with either of the envelopes attached to it. There is also an envelope with a November 1945 postmark that does not belong with any of the letters in the collection. This envelope bears a drawing of a clown face with the words “From Archie Royer Oldest Living Talking Clown” written beneath. Most of the letters are dated, although some are not. Those without dates, however, have been easily placed chronologically based on the letter’s contents (see inventory below).

Apart from the letters this collection contains two pages of poems that Royer apparently composed himself. They focus heavily on Royer’s friendship with Cole. One page is attached to what was evidently a page of a scrapbook. It features a drawing of a clown face with “Royer” written on the clown’s collar. The second page of poems is recorded on simple lined paper. The first poem on the page is titled “As Life Goes On” and the second is “Cleanse.” The final piece in the collection is a drawing of a man holding a large ring in front of him. The back of the page contains blue handwriting in Spanish. The connection between this piece and the rest of the collection is unclear.

Archie Royer, Sr. Collection Finding Aid
Jenifer Blouin
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Western Michigan University Archives & Regional History Collections Repository

Charles C. and Lynn L. Zhang Legacy Collections Center
1650 Oakland Drive
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5307 US
(269) 387-8490