This set sold on eBay in January of this year. Notice the Jomar name only appears on the coffee cup.
Unless you are a circus enthusiast, the name Jomar probably doesn’t mean anything to you. Even an experienced antique collector can rarely identify what it is. Mention Jomar to a circus history enthusiast, though, and he will immediately recognize the name of John Ringling’s private railroad car. The name “Jomar” was created by combining the first two letters of John and Mable Ringling’s first names followed by an “r” for Ringling. John, the youngest of the five Ringling brothers, lived a life of luxury. He owned an apartment on Fifth Avenue in New York City and a grand home he named Ca’ d’Zan in Sarasota, Fla., now part of The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. He traveled in style aboard his yacht Zalophus, in a chauffeured Rolls-Royce automobile or in one of his private railcars. In 1905 the Pullman Company built the Wisconsin railcar for John, named after the state where the circus winter home was located in Baraboo, Wis.. John and his wife Mable traveled across the country aboard the Wisconsin from 1905 through 1916. This railroad car is now restored and on permanent exhibit at The Ringling Circus Museum in Sarasota, also a part of The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. John Ringling’s second private railcar, Jomar, was built in 1917, again by the Pullman Company. It is estimated that Jomar cost $100,000, which would be $1.8 million in 2014 dollars. The opulent Jomar was inlaid with mahogany, lighted by Tiffany lamps, and included a dining area appointed with fine china and silverware. When John Ringling died in 1936, Jomar was taken over by John Ringling North, his nephew and executor of the estate. By 1940, John Ringling North had remodeled Jomar, replacing the Victorian look with modern furnishings and adding air conditioning.
This is an early view of Jomar. (Photo: RMA-Tibbals)
Over the years, John Ringing and his nephew entertained many of the nation’s famous aboard Jomar. Among them were General John J. Pershing, Thomas Edison, President Warren G. Harding and Cecil B. DeMille, who directed the Academy Award-winning motion picture “The Greatest Show on Earth.”
The dining area was modernized by nephew John Ringling North. The table is set for a meal with plates adorned with the Jomar name. (Photo: RMA-Tibbals)
John Ringling North (right) and Charlton Heston stand on the vestibule of Jomar. Heston starred as Brad, the tough circus manager in “The Greatest Show on Earth” motion picture. (Photo: RMA-Tibbals)
Today, Jomar is located at 2211 Fruitville Road in Sarasota, part of Bob’s Train, owned by Bob Horne. It’s open for lunch Monday through Friday. In 2010, K-Line by Lionel sold a model of Jomar, which retailed at $145.99. When you can find them, the models now sell for $70 to $179.
The Lionel model of Jomar is no longer available retail, but can be found in online auctions.
Jomar china is known to exist in institutions and private collections. I’ve heard rumors of private sales of the china, but haven’t found records to confirm any of those sales except for a small plate I sold from my own collection for $775 to a railroad collector in Oklahoma. In tracking circus memorabilia sale prices over the past four decades, I have found no record of any Jomar china being sold by antique dealers or at auction, until recently. In late January of this year, a set of Jomar china—that included a tea pot, sugar bowl and two-handled coffee cup—was offered on eBay with a starting bid of $750. Three bidders and 13 bids later, the winning bid was $3,049.99. I suspect the tea pot and sugar bowl in this set are not Jomar china at all, but stock china from the Mayer collection, the company that made the china. In researching for this article I discovered a tea pot identical to the one in the above set. It sold with a creamer in 2010 at Trinity Auction Gallery for $15. There was no mention of a connection to Ringling or Jomar.
This tea pot and creamer sold at Trinity Auction Gallery. The bottom of the tea pot is marked Mayer China LaMure. (Photo: Trinity Auction Gallery in Trinity, Texas)
It’s no surprise due to the high bid on the Jomar china set, another two single plates with the Jomar name appeared on eBay before the week was out. One was a bread and butter plate and the other was a dinner plate. The small plate started with a $500 bid. Five bidders and 23 bids later, the winning bid was $1,237.12. The dinner plate started at 99 cents with a reserve, but was purchased almost immediately for a $2,000 “Buy It Now” price.
The Jomar name appeared on the front of the plates.
John Ringling North undoubtedly gave individual pieces of Jomar china to friends and associates, but how did people without those connections obtain items? An interesting story relates how some of this china may have come into private hands. In the final days before Ringling moved the winter quarters from Sarasota to Venice, circus fans would frequent the winter quarters grounds looking for items that had been discarded. Hearsay has it that one such fan was walking by a building and discovered one or more barrels that had been thrown out an upper story window. The barrels, now broken open, had been filled with Jomar china. What remained were hundreds of broken pieces, but it was still possible to salvage several sets that remained undamaged. Some of the recent pieces sold on eBay could be from those discarded so long ago. There has always been a controversy about the origin of Jomar china, specifically who placed the first order, John Ringling or John Ringling North? One clue comes from a detailed inventory of the contents of the Jomar railcar at the time it was delivered to John Ringling by the Pullman Company in 1917. A copy of the 31-page inventory was provided to me by Pullman Company historian David Duncan of Sarasota. The document details all specifications for the car, including every item in the car, from furniture to waste baskets. It even lists 11 spittoons. In the dining room section it reads: “The chinaware is the same grade as applied to Pullman General Service Private cars and has the same design of black and yellow marking thereon, except that the name Pullman was omitted and no other marking substituted therefore.”
Pullman General Service china is shown here with the black and yellow marking and the Pullman name. It is nothing like the Jomar china.
That inventory settles the fact that the china was not on Jomar when the car was first delivered. It is possible that John Ringling ordered Jomar china in later years, but in consulting with other circus and railroad historians, the general consensus seems to be that the china was ordered by John Ringling North. Their opinions are backed up by the fact that the design of the Jomar china would have been out of place in the Victoria style dining area during the John Ringling years. However, it would complement John Ringling North’s modern redesign. In my search to see if any other Jomar china pieces appeared on eBay, I discovered an old printer’s block with the name Jomar in italic type. I have no idea whether it has any connection to Ringling’s railcar, but for a starting bid of 99 cents, I couldn’t resist. And my winning bid was just 99 cents plus shipping. Now my search leads me in a different direction to find the origin of this printer’s block. If anyone has any ideas I’d love to hear from you.
This was listed on eBay under the Printing & Graphic Arts category. There was no mention of Ringling or circus. It measures 4-3/8 inches.
The historic photos in this story were provided courtesy of The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art—Tibbals Collection (RMA-Tibbals).
Larry Kellogg is a Worthologist specializing in circus memorabilia. WorthPoint—Discover Your Hidden Wealth