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Ladies, Gentlemen and Collectors of All Ages . . .

by Mark Jaffe (03/03/09).

santa-elephant-cropped

About once a year, some small circus would make its way to Council Grove, Kan., and when it did a circus-dazzled kid named Larry Kellogg—now WorthPoint’s expert on circus collectibles, antiques and memorabilia—would be there.

As an 8-year-old, Kellogg would go to the gas station and markets asking if he could have the circus posters in windows once the show left town. Every ticket stub, program and flier would get pasted into a scrapbook. Those circus posters papered his bedroom walls.

When, in 1956, Ringling Brothers closed its “Big Top” tent, Kellogg, now a high-school student, was “crushed.” It was, however, around this time that Kellogg said he discovered girls, and his love for the circus took a backseat for a few years.

1934 Kelty photo of circus folk in New Haven

1934 Kelty photo of circus folk in New Haven

In 1960, Kellogg moved to Florida, and by 1971, he was the promotions manager at WFLA-TV in Tampa/St. Petersburg when the circus came walking into his office—so to speak.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was appearing at St. Petersburg’s Bayfront Center Arena, and Kellogg helped promote the show—and thus began a 34-season run in helping to publicize The Greatest Show on Earth.

And how does one publicize the circus? Consider the Elephant Santa. One year, the circus arrived at Christmastime—a difficult moment for the show to get the cover of the local newspaper’s weekend entertainment magazine. “But the editor,” Kellogg recounts, “said, ‘If you can get me a picture of an elephant in a Santa hat, I’ll put it on the cover.’”

Larry Kellogg with his pal, Santa Elephant

Larry Kellogg with his pal, Santa Elephant

Santa Elephant makes the cover

Santa Elephant makes the cover

A quick order to the circus costume-and-prop department, and Kellogg had an elephant-size Santa’s hat and the magazine cover. Great publicity!

Some of the earliest items he collected were books about the circus, which Kellogg says is a good place for anyone interested in starting a circus collection. Read what Larry has to say about circus books. http://www.worthpoint.com/blog-entry/circus-books-building-solid-foundation-collecting

Ringling's Rough Riders photographed by Edward Kelty

Ringling's Rough Riders photographed by Edward Kelty

Among the most sought-after items, Kellogg says, are circus posters, which draw a market of both collectors and people seeking to use the posters for decoration. Still, even today posters from the 1920s and 1930s and early 1940s can be bought for $50 to $200. “The problem is reproductions,” Kellogg advises. “Buying a poster without seeking it is risky.” Click here to learn more about posters.

Another popular market is circus photographs. “These are highly prized and can run from $200 to several $1,000,” Kellogg says. For example, large, 12-by-20 inch photos by Edward Kelty from the 1920s to the early 1940s can fetch as much as $7,000.

Everyone loves a circus clown

Everyone loves a circus clown

Sideshow-freak pictures are also in high demand, with price tags reaching hundreds of dollars. “There are freak collectors and well as circus collectors, so that’s what you are seeing in that market,” Kellogg says.

But there are lots and lots of things to collect from a circus. Kellogg’s collection includes thousands of printed items but also gear—from a sunburst circus wheel to an elephant harness.

Sunburst circus wheel

Sunburst circus wheel

Among the collectibles Kellogg said he finds most fascinating are the marketing, advertising and business records. There are items, such as route books that recorded the travels and financial accounts. For more on route books, click here.

There were circus “couriers”—magazines that were distributed in advance of the show coming to town and handbills and business forms and even canceled checks. A bundle turned up recently signed by some of the five Ringling brothers from 1912 to 1917.

“This gives you the story not only of the circus, but the business that was the circus,” Kellogg says.

Since Ringling Bros. struck its Big Top more than 50 years ago, generations have grown up without experiencing the smell of sawdust and canvas. “I don’t know if young people really have the same romance with the circus we did,” Kellogg says.

Under the Big Top photo by Edward Kelty

Under the Big Top photo by Edward Kelty

And where are those scrapbooks and posters from Kellogg’s youth? “I don’t know what happened to them,” he said. “I sure wish I had them.”

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One Response to “Ladies, Gentlemen and Collectors of All Ages . . .”

  1. Lisa says:

    My next door neighbors took me and their son, both of us 5 years old, to the RBB&B Circus in Baltimore in 1956. They bought me a souvenir band leader’s baton: 2 feet long wooden handle painted red, white and blue, with a yellow tasseled string wrapped around it and a bell hanging from the top. The best part was the glittered head–the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

    In about 1985, when my daughter was little, I saw a similar baton in an antique store. I was so excited, I ran to the car where my husband was waiting (he was not much of an antiquer). While I prattled away to him the story of my baton, my daughter slipped out of the car, and when she came back, she presented me with the baton. I still get misty-eyed when I look at the baton, standing in a place of honor with a genuine antique cane and umbrella.

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