Circus Christmas Cards — A Colorful Big Top Collectible

Roland Butler was working on the design for the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. card when he died in 1961. The design was used for many years after his death.

Roland Butler was working on the design for the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. card when he died in 1961. The design was used for many years after his death.

During the Christmas season, circuses are typically at winter quarters preparing for another year on the road. Circus owners have always been alert to use any and every means to promote their shows. Mailing Christmas cards to members of the media, business associates and friends is a perfect way to remind everyone that the circus is coming again.

Circus Christmas cards are very collectible and are reasonably priced. Value is based on the age of the card, the artwork and who sent it. Some cards have the sender’s name printed inside. The more famous that person is, the greater the value of the card. And if the person actually signed the card, the value is increased.

When cards feature original artwork, the artist who designed the card can be a factor in determining the value. Two of the most popular artists who have designed artwork for circus Christmas cards are Roland Butler and Bill Ballentine. Butler was a classic circus press agent who got his start with Sparks Circus. Later he was with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, promoting the Ubangis, the giraffe-neck women, Gargantua (the great gorilla) and many other of the big show’s major features. In his final working years, after leaving Ringling, he designed advertising material for many circuses. Many of his designs were used as Christmas cards.

Gargantua

Gargantua the Great Gorillia.

A King Bros. card is from the 1950s.

A King Bros. card is from the 1950s.

These are three of Roland Butler’s Christmas card designs. The juggling gorilla is Gargantua. This Ringling-Barnum card was mailed by Fred Bradna in 1948. Bradna was the Equestrian Director Emeritus, for the show that year. It’s interesting to note that Bradna had a Spanish phrase stamped on the card for his Spanish speaking friends. The phrase literally says: “Happy Easter and Prosperous New Year.” This was a popular old-fashioned message at the time—for Easter and Christmas. The card is valued at $15-20. The other two cards are valued at about $5 each. The King Bros. card is from the 1950s. Butler was working on the design for the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. card when he died in 1961. The design was used for many years after his death.

A Bill Ballentine card front.

A Bill Ballentine card front.

The inside of the Bill Ballentine card.

The inside of the Bill Ballentine card.

Bill Ballentine had a varied circus career. He was a clown, illustrator and publicist with Ringling-Barnum. He also authored many books and magazine stories. The above illustrations are the cover and inside of a card he designed. This one was signed by Ballentine, but other copies of the same card have different names of the sender printed inside.

Another Ballentine card front.

Another Ballentine card front.

After he retired, Ballentine continued to design his own personal Christmas cards as shown here. For an interesting story about an unusual collectible I received from Bill Ballentine see my story titled:P.T. Barnum: An Accidental Collectible. Below you will see a number Christmas cards from various circuses and several cards from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

A card from the short-lived Parker & Watts Circus, 1938-39.

A card from the short-lived Parker & Watts Circus, 1938-39.

The Parker & Watts Circus was a short-lived show operating in 1938-39. This Christmas card was mailed by Mr. & Mrs. Ira M. Watts. Ira Watts was co-owner with Charles W. Parker. The card is valued at $20-25.

An Al G. Barnes from the 1930s.

An Al G. Barnes from the 1930s.

Al G. Barnes was a wild animal circus that wintered in California. This card is from the 1930s. S.L. Cronin was manager of the show, which was owned by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. This card is valued at about $10.

The front of a card from the Al G. Kelly & Miller Bros. Circus.

The front of a card from the Al G. Kelly & Miller Bros. Circus.

The inside of the Al G. Kelly & Miller Bros. Circus card.

The inside of the Al G. Kelly & Miller Bros. Circus card.

Al G. Kelly & Miller Bros. This circus was billed as the “2nd Largest Circus” and this card from the 1950s is valued at about $5.

The front of the 1986 Christmas card for Carson & Barnes Circus.

The front of the 1986 Christmas card for Carson & Barnes Circus.

The inside of the Carson & Barnes Circus 1986 Christmas card.

The inside of the Carson & Barnes Circus 1986 Christmas card.

This 1986 Christmas card for Carson & Barnes Circus has an image on the front of the show in Milwaukee, Wis. where it played in conjunction with the Great Circus Parade. The show was billed as a five-ring circus. The card is signed from the Millers & Byrds. D.R. & Isla Miller and Barbara & Geary Byrd were co-owners of the show.

A Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey card from 1932.

A Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey card from 1932.

The inside of the 1932 Christmas card from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

The inside of the 1932 Christmas card from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

This Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey card is from 1932. The cover and inside artwork is lithographed. Value is $25-35.

The 1980 Ringling Bros. and Barnum card that also features the logos of the Ice Follies and Holiday on Ice, Disney On Ice and the Siegfried & Roy magic show.

The 1980 Ringling Bros. and Barnum card that also features the logos of the Ice Follies and Holiday on Ice, Disney On Ice and the Siegfried & Roy magic show.

All of the logos on this card are engraved. In 1980 Ringling Bros. and Barnum bought Ice Follies and Holiday on Ice and combined the shows. In 1981 Disney On Ice made its first appearance. The Felds were also producing the Siegfried & Roy magic show in Las Vegas. This card has the names Irvin Feld, Kenneth Feld, Allen Bloom, Earl Duryea. The Felds were producers and owners of the show. Bloom and Duryea held top management positions. The card has a value of about $15-20.

The Living Unicorn, featured in the 115th Edition of The Greatest Show On Earth, is on the front of the card.

The Living Unicorn, featured in the 115th Edition of The Greatest Show On Earth, is on the front of the card.

The inside has Santa’s sleigh being pulled by circus animals with a Ringling elephant leading the way.

The inside has Santa’s sleigh being pulled by circus animals with a Ringling elephant leading the way.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Christmas Cards often feature very elaborate, original artwork. These two illustrations show the front and inside of a card from the mid 1980s. The Living Unicorn, featured in the 115th Edition of The Greatest Show On Earth, is on the front of the card. The inside has Santa’s sleigh being pulled by circus animals with a Ringling elephant leading the way. Inside the sleigh with Santa you see wild animal trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams, clown Frosty Little, Siegfried & Roy and Mickey Mouse. Value is $5-10.

This multi-panel card was used in 1985 by Feld Entertainment.

This multi-panel card was used in 1985 by Feld Entertainment.

Cards with several panels have been used by Feld Entertainment to showcase their many attractions. This multi-panel card was used in 1985. The various panels feature posters of the shows: Ringling-Barnum two units (Celebrating 100 Years of Ringling Bros. and The Living Unicorn), Siegfried & Roy Beyond Belief, Walt Disney’s World On Ice and Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom On Ice. Value is $5-10.

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Larry Kellogg is a WorthPoint Worthologist specializing in circus memorabilia.

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