The Ringling Name Sells Products and Expands the World of Circus Collectibles

This is one of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey train cars manufactured by K-Line in 1994. This train car is O Gauge and can sometimes be found on eBay for as little as $50.

This is one of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey train cars manufactured by K-Line in 1994. This train car is O Gauge and can sometimes be found on eBay for as little as $50.

In a previous article I wrote a little about the history of The Greatest Show On Earth. Over the years, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey have licensed its name to a variety of products—toys, decorative items, clothing and more—which adds to those things a circus devote can collect.

Because The Greatest Show On Earth travels by train, it was logical to produce model circus trains. K-Line Electric Trains has sold a number of toy circus railroad cars including many generic models. In 1994 the company came out with a series of toy railroad cars bearing the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey name. Even though the original retail prices were in the $100 range, some of the cars can now be found for $50-$75.

The 2008 K-Line by Lionel catalog had a seven-page section with train cars and other items featuring The Greatest Show On Earth. Four of the pages are shown here.

The 2008 K-Line by Lionel catalog had a seven-page section with train cars and other items featuring The Greatest Show On Earth. Four of the pages are shown here.

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For years, K-Line and Lionel were competitors. In 2006 Lionel purchased K-Line. The 2008 K-Line by Lionel catalog featured seven colorful pages of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey licensed products. Even the catalog is a circus collectible.

Pepsi’s first collector series of six glasses used Ringling posters for the design.

Pepsi’s first collector series of six glasses used Ringling posters for the design.

The glasses can be found on internet auctions for as little as 99 cents each.

The glasses can be found on internet auctions for as little as 99 cents each.

Glassware is always popular, and over the years there have been many glasses, coffee mugs and plates with the Ringling name. In 1975 Pepsi came out with a collector series of six glasses featuring Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Posters. Most were free with the purchase of a Pepsi at fast food franchises. The following year there was a series of Ringling Clowns.

Each of the coffee mugs sold in 1983 came in a box which also had the Ringling logo

Each of the coffee mugs sold in 1983 came in a box which also had the Ringling logo

Today they bring about $5 on internet auctions which is about the same price they sold for originally.

Today they bring about $5 on internet auctions which is about the same price they sold for originally.

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Coffee mugs have also featured posters of The Greatest Show On Earth. One series came out in 1983 distributed by Quon-Quon, Inc. Hamilton Collectibles began releasing decorative plates with artwork by Franklin Moody in 1982. The first set of eight plates was followed by additional sets and performing animal figurines with the Ringling name. All Hamilton collectibles were numbered and in limited editions.

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Circus posters seem to be a common theme, so it was logical that the Lefton company decided in the ’90s to use Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey posters in their Roadside USA series of 12 miniature billboards. Lefton circus billboards can be found on internet auctions for as little as $5 each.

When Hamilton Collectibles began producing licensed Ringling items this plate was No. 1 in the first series.  Plates in the various series sometimes sell for as little as 99 cents each in online auctions even though their original retail price was around $30. Hamilton figurines usually bring $10 to $15.

When Hamilton Collectibles began producing licensed Ringling items this plate was No. 1 in the first series. Plates in the various series sometimes sell for as little as 99 cents each in online auctions even though their original retail price was around $30. Hamilton figurines usually bring $10 to $15.

One of the largest collections of licensed objects was released by Willitts Galleries and are showcased in a 12-page spread in the 1989 Willitts Catalog. There were music boxes, plates, posters, kaleidoscopes, jack-in-the-boxes, bells and more. All items had the signature of Kenneth Feld, president and producer of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. Many were limited editions with an inlaid, numbered RBB&B coin.

The 1989 hardbound Willitts catalog has 12 pages showcasing their entire line of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey licensed items. The catalog is more desirable than many of the items and has a value of $40-$50.

The 1989 hardbound Willitts catalog has 12 pages showcasing their entire line of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey licensed items. The catalog is more desirable than many of the items and has a value of $40-$50.

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The wholesale price for this tiger music box was $37.50 in the 1989 Willitts dealer catalog. In 2008 it brought only $10 on eBay. Other in the series have sold for as little as $5.

Sometimes a manufacturer decides that a circus theme would look great on their product and, without asking permission, will use one of the licensed names or images. That was the case with cloth that was sold by the yard in the 1970s. The Greatest Show On Earth was used in the design, along with an image of the famous Ringling clown Lou Jacobs. It was on the market a very short while before it had to be pulled. The Greatest Show On Earth name was replaced with a generic circus term and the image of Lou Jacobs was replaced with a generic clown. The rest of the design remained the same.

This cloth material was sold by the yard but the manufacturer failed to get a licensing agreement with The Greatest Show On Earth. It was soon pulled and the design was altered to remove the words “The Greatest Show On Earth” and the famous Ringling clown image of Lou Jacobs. One yard of the original unlicensed material sold on eBay in 2008 for $10.

This cloth material was sold by the yard but the manufacturer failed to get a licensing agreement with The Greatest Show On Earth. It was soon pulled and the design was altered to remove the words “The Greatest Show On Earth” and the famous Ringling clown image of Lou Jacobs. One yard of the original unlicensed material sold on eBay in 2008 for $10.

Items with the famous logos of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey and The Greatest Show On Earth are quite collectible. Many of these items was many can be found today for very low prices.

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Larry Kellogg is a WorthPoint Worthologist specializing in circus memorabilia.

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No Comments

  1. Jill says:

    Hello Larry,
    I have come across some circus banners / posters. They look like silkscreens. They are about 3′ x 10′(yes feet)They are in near mint condition. I believe they are from the 1970’s. Some of them have “The Los Angeles Forum” but several do not.

    What do I have?

    Best Regards,
    Jill

    • Larry Kellogg says:

      Jill,
      After receiving the images you emailed I can tell you that one of the posters is for the 102nd Edition of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. This show premiered in Venice, Florida in January 1972 and was in California in August 1972. You can confirm this by looking at a 1972 calendar and seeing that the days and dates match (Thursday was on August 10). The other poster is for the 100th Anniversary RBBB Show. That show premiered in Venice, Florida in January 1970 and was in California in July of that year.
      Larry Kellogg

      • Barbara Andrews says:

        Hello!
        What an interesting circus site! In garage I found an gorgeous 1989, approx. 12′ x 9′ folded up poster or billboard,-Ringling Bros. “The Farewell Tour of Gunther Gebel-Williams” Sickle Cell Show-with KACE Radio station in Los Angeles. I can’t seem to find any like it, or recall where it came from-,-(it’s an old age thing)… Any ideas?! KI thank you, Barbara A.

        • Larry Kellogg says:

          In every market the circus arranges for promotional tie-ins with local media. What you have is a poster printed for a co-promotion with radio station KACE.

      • Thank you for the kind reply about mine being a promotional Ringling Bros/Radio station poster. Do you know if these of any value? Thank you again! Barbara A.

  2. Ray says:

    During 1989 I saw one of the local “billboard” guys putting up a ‘Gunther farewell tour” billboard .Ringling brothers was performing at teh Providence civic center (RI). I asked him if he had any extras. He gave me a complete folded one.I still have the complete, unused billboard. It goes up like wallpaper. 12 sections make the complete post. Waay cool! Ray/RI.

  3. Hello Larry,
    I recently bought an Estate of a retired Clown Out. This Estate had a Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus Poster size 38×26 1/2. It Appears to be folded sheets that are fit together. At the top of this poster/billboard is a red ribbon with the words The Greatest Clowns On Earth. This poster features several different clowns. At the bottom of this poster it reads Ringling Brother & Barnum Bailey Circus. In a Circle sits between the two names. It looks like earth, has blue and black in the background, in yellow it says The Greatest Show On Earth. In the left hand corner there is a metallic tiger stuck to this poster. Printed along the bottom says Symbol for copyright 1977 Ringling Bros & Barnum Bailey Combined Shows, Inc. It also features a signature on the right hand side that is unreadable. It starts with a B and ends with Tine, perhaps Balentine? These sheets are on a thick cardboard type backing with a hanger attached on the back.
    I would appreciate any information you could share with me. Thanks much! Regards, Michelle

  4. Thanks much for the info Larry, greatly appreciated! Regards~Michelle