Circus Memorabilia Expert’s eBay Searches Reveal Scores of Misidentified Posters
Every day I search eBay for new listings of circus items, hoping to find something rare or unusual to add to my collection. I use several search criteria. My search today for “circus, Barnum, Ringling” in the collectibles category resulted in new 800-plus items listed since yesterday. It takes only minutes to scan the typical items and my practiced eyes quickly find anything unusual.
So, you found this Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus poster featuring Gargantua the Great that was first issued in 1938. It looks really old and sorta beat-up, so you post it on eBay as an original. You might expect to get an email from Worthologist Larry Kellogg explaining to you that you have made a mistake and that poster, although old, is a 1970s reproduction.
What surprises me, though, is the frequency of which reproduction circus posters appear on eBay. I guess it’s because so many were reproduced. In fact, the first article I wrote for WorthPoint back in 2008 was on that very topic – “Is That Old Circus Poster You Found Authentic or a Reproduction?” That article generated many responses with lots of questions, so several years later I wrote an update, “Is That Old Circus Poster You Found Authentic or a Reproduction? More Answers.”
Many people selling reproduction posters will state in their description that they are not original. However, several times a week I find listings with statements like “guaranteed original” or “not a reproduction” in which the statement just are not true. In most cases, it’s because the seller truly believes it to be original. After all, some of these reproductions are more than 40 years old.
So, I’ve made it a practice to email these dealers a polite correction with a link to my WorthPoint articles. The articles clearly explain why these reproductions have a value of $5 or less. Regularly, I receive a response thanking me. Here are some examples:
“Thanks, it was hard to tell. I will change the listing accordingly.”
“Yuck! Well I paid $30 for it at an estate sale! I’ve got a booth in an antique mall, so maybe I’ll put it in a cheap frame and at least try to get most of my money back. Thanks for the info. In this business you learn something new every day.”
“Thank you for your information regarding the authenticity of this circus poster. I honestly was not exactly sure of its true age since its condition was deceiving. It really looks like it’s from 1925. I have changed the description of the poster & reduced the price accordingly. I really appreciate the value of your expertise. Best regards.”
“Wow—an eye-opener! In this day & age, we’re all duped once in a great while. Hopefully, this poster will meet the eye of an ordinary individual who just collects clown posters for the love of them. Thank you for taking time out to write this information out & forwarding it on to me. Much appreciated. I will do a little more homework from now on.”
“Felix and 99 other Famous Clowns” is a 1970s reproduction of a poster originally printed in 1933. The repro shows up on eBay with several times each month.
“That’s terrible; I never knew that a company could just reprint something. So, I guess it’s not worth $299.99? Later when I get home, I’ll have to make some changes to the listing. Thanks for all your information.”
“Thanks so much for the information. What a great reference your article is. I had no idea how much (or little) these posters are worth. I just found them with other things at an estate sale and thought they were fun. Based on your article, I’ll lower the price and clarify the fact that they are reproductions when I re-list them. Thanks again for taking the time to share your knowledge. I appreciate it.”
“Thank you so much for the message and the time that you took to write it. I would like to post it as an update to my auctions if that is ok with you. I really enjoyed the article that you wrote and even had my wife read it. I really enjoyed the WorthPoint website.”
“Thank you a million. I’m a member of WorthPoint for a month now and it has made me money, but I didn’t know about the Worthologists. I have much to learn and you taking the time is greatly appreciated. I’ll remove the auction right away. I wondered why no one was bidding. It was a rookie move.”
“Thank you for the information. We indeed thought the poster was original, but after reading your article, it is obviously a reproduction. The article was very interesting and thanks for pointing it out; we have ended the item. Unfortunately in the field of antiques there is a lot to know and we all sometimes mistake a copy for the real thing.”
This is a current eBay listing for the Gargantua the Great posted shown above. This one, with its reproduction code of “P-12 – 1938,” is obviously a 1976 reproduction, but the seller took the “1938” as the date it was printed. The seller is asking $150. It’s not worth nearly that much.
“I’m not easily impressed . . . but that article impressed me.”
“Thank you very much for taking the time to email me. The article was very interesting and very thorough. I will pass this information on to the owner of these posters and will adjust the auction accordingly. I did have my doubts; however I was unable to find any extensive details online while researching them. What an interesting area of expertise you have. It’s my pleasure to meet you here.”
“I would have said it was an original if someone had asked. It’s nice to know there are people out there like you that would share important information like this. I do appreciate you taking the time.”
“Howdy! Thank you! That was very kind of you to share your knowledge with me :). I went to the WorthPoint site and joined, and put you as the member that referred me.”
Some of those sellers I contacted ignored my message and continued listing their reproduction posters as originals, but most people have been appreciative. I can recall just one eBay seller who rather nastily challenged me and insisted his reproduction was worth hundreds of dollars. It just proves the old adage, “Let the buyer beware.”
Larry Kellogg is a Worthologist specializing in circus memorabilia.
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