Ringling VIP Gifts Are Rare Circus Collectibles

Collectors of circus memorabilia are rarely able to enhance their personal collections with VIP gifts from The Greatest Show on Earth because so few are available. The Feld era of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey began in 1967 when Irvin Feld and his brother Israel Feld bought the total assets of the show from the Ringling and North Families. In the ensuing years, the show created many memorable gifts to be given to arena managers, key media representatives and other VIPs. Because they were not offered to the general public and were produced in limited numbers, these treasures have become extremely collectible. Determining values can be almost impossible since, in most cases, there are no auction or sales records for any of these unique mementos. Let’s look at a few of these impressive gifts.

In the early 1970s one such gift was a sculptured, leaping tiger made of bronze mounted on an exquisite chunk of rose quartz. An engraved card accompanied each sculpture naming the artist, Henri Wilson. The tiger was reminiscent of the image on the leaping tiger poster first used by Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows in 1914. Illustrator Charles Livingston Bull designed the poster image which was used by Ringling for many years and was replicated by other circuses.

This VIP gift was created nearly 40 years ago.

I have never come across one in an auction or for sale.

The card accompanying the leaping tiger sculpture says “Especially Designed and Sculpted For Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Combined Shows Inc. by Henri Wilson.” To date, I haven’t been able to find any more information about the artist.

The original leaping tiger poster was designed by Charles Livingston Bull for Ringling Bros. in 1914. The circus continued to use that artwork after the show was combined with Barnum & Bailey. Estimated value of this poster is $500 to $1,000.

Circus publicist, Roland Butler, re-created the artwork with minor changes and used it for Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus. These posters have sold on eBay for $20 to $30.

World famous clown, Lou Jacobs, performed with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey for more than 60 years. In the early 1980s the show used an image of Lou and his little Chihuahua, Knucklehead, on the face of a wall clock.

This gift wall clock measures 24 inch square. In 2008 one sold on eBay for $24.95.

Umbrellas seemed to be a popular gift. Ringling used a large golf umbrella to promote their various properties in 1981. Nearly 30 years later another smaller umbrella with different artwork came along.

The umbrella in the early 1980s was 48 inches in diameter with four panels promoting four shows: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, Ice Follies and Holiday on Ice Combined Shows, Walt Disney’s World on Ice and Siegfried and Roy in Beyond Belief at Frontier in Las Vegas.

Recently, a 40-inch umbrella was designed with four panels promoting: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, Disney on Ice, Disney Live and Ringling’s Center for Elephant Conservation. Interspersed between those panels are four panels, each with the words “Feld Entertainment.”

Wild animal trainer, Gunther Gebel-Williams, performed for more than a quarter of a century with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. In 1989 he began a two-year farewell tour. A colorful biography entitled “Lord of the Rings Gunther Gebel-Williams,” was published to commemorate his stellar career.

In most cases, when the book was given away, it was autographed by Gunther. The book was not available in book stores. A few copies are listed on the Internet priced at $80 to more than $200.

This year (2011) The Greatest Show on Earth begins the 141st season of continuous performances, dating to when P.T. Barnum’s Museum, Menagerie and Circus premiered in Brooklyn on the 10th of April, 1871. In 1984 Irvin Feld and his son Kenneth Feld launched a show celebrating 100 years of the Ringling Brothers. Of course, the Ringling boys started their show several years after Barnum. By 1907, the brothers bought Barnum & Bailey from Bailey’s widow and in 1919 the shows were combined.

To celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Ringling Bros. a limited edition, signed and numbered poster was commissioned. Portraits of Irvin Feld and Kenneth Feld appear in the upper corners.

Tully Burch, an artist from Helena, Ala., illustrated the poster. His signature is on the bottom edge. This is poster 984 out of the limited edition of 1,500. I have never seen one of these posters at auction or for sale on the Internet.

Barnum’s Fundundrum edition of The Greatest Show on Earth began its two-year tour in 2010 and celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of P.T. Barnum. Images of circus trains are used throughout the production. So what better VIP gift than a cookie jar made to look like a train?

Cookie jars have been a popular and affordable collectible for a long time. Here’s a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey – Barnum’s Funundrum, ceramic, cookie jar with two openings.

Frequently, you will come across a variety of collectibles bearing the Ringling name, but most of these are not the VIP gifts like those found in this article. Don’t confuse VIP gifts with licensed collectibles, which are sold to the general public. A previous article tells about Ringling Licensed Products.

Larry Kellogg is a WorthPoint Worthologist specializing in circus memorabilia.

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37 Comments

  1. Kathryn Boone says:

    I have a wallet that was never used but has the name of James A. Bailey stamped on the inside in gold. I got it from the estate of a lady from Mt. Vernon, NY. She had written a note that the Uncle and Aunt of her husband had been caretakers on the Bailey estate and the Uncle was given the wallet, the horses and a golden oak library table when Bailey died. Do you think the wallet could be one of the VIP gifts you speak of. Would you like to see some photos?

    • Larry Kellogg says:

      Kathryn,

      No, the VIP gifts discussed in the article are from the Feld era which began in the late 1960s. James A. Bailey who was born James Anthony McGuiness died in 1906. As a teen he was given a job by Fred Bailey who was a nephew of circus pioneer Hachaliah Bailey. James took Bailey as his surname before he teamed up with P.T. Barnum. Your wallet sounds very interesting. Yes, I would like to see a photos of the wallet. I have sent my contact inforamtion in a separate email.

  2. Hi I have a mint condition Bicentennial Program from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus 1975. It has Gunther Gebel Williams in this, with poster which has the 1974 copyright on it still in tack and in program. Along with Lou Jacobs (clown) in program. Could you let me know how much this is valued at today? Thank you.

    • Larry Kellogg says:

      Renee,

      The program from the Bicentennial Edition sells for a dollar or two. Sometimes it will sell for as much as $5 but that’s on the high side.

  3. Tully Burch says:

    I’m Tully Burch the artist of Poster 984
    Celebrating 100 Years of Ringling Bros.
    Nancy Reagan could have RONALD’S POSTER No ONE.
    Do i SOUND PROUD YES I AM ! It is so nice
    to see a interest..!

    Tully

  4. lori says:

    Hi I found this Disneys snow white wicked witch and it’s a figurine it looks old like a collect type thing so I turned it over and it said made exclusively for Ringling bros and Barnum Bailey Combined Shows. No date on it does any one have a clue what this is? Can it be of Value? Hope someone knows something thanks Lori

    • Larry Kellogg says:

      Lori,

      The item you describe isn’t a VIP gift. I would need to see it to give a more definite answer. It’s probably a souvenir sold at one of the Disney on Ice shows. Feld Entertainment produces Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey and Disney on Ice.

  5. Hello, I have a most unique poster from the ringling brothers barnum and bailey circus. it is from the kenneth feld era, and was from the grand opening of the (then) san jose arena. they were the first act to ever perform and they were there from sept 8-12, 1993. there are over 40 signatures of the performers on this poster, and it is my believe it was fromt he opening night, which incidentally was also a sold out crowd. how would i even begin to find a clue of the value of this item. side note, it was professionally framed in 1997. you can see it was stored rolled up prior, which is a shame.

    • Jacqueline says:

      Posters like the one you describe were typically produced for a local promotion and for that reason would have more value in your area (San Jose). The best way to determine value is to look at auction or sale records for the same item. You might check with local antique dealers to see if they have any information on your poster.

  6. Cindy Sparks says:

    Goodmorning to ya… I have had for 30 + years a scrapbook from “The Greatest Show on Earth” and all of the pics are originals and some are signed. The scrapbook was put together by Harry Ray the makeup artist for alot of the clowns and also Dorthy Lamour. I have an 8×10 bw photo of Lou Jacobs and he wrote on it and signed it. Same thing with Emmett Kelly..8×10 and signed. There is alot of photos all bw and some are Jimmy Stewart getting his makeup put on and pics of Cornell Wild, and on the inside cover it says To My dear friend Harry Ray… John Ringling North. There are schedules and letters from the President of the circus. I dont have it in front of me, so this is all by my memory. But there is so much more and I took it down to an auction house yesterday, and they said that the signatures were real and that they would (if I wanted to) put the album up on there next auction starting at 7000.00.. I havent made up my mind because they are all one of a kind..Like Dorthy Lamour standing at bat with the Red Socks…And the pic with the owner of the team.. What do you think? I know you would want to see pics and I would take them for you, but honestly, I cant let the book out of my site until a sale is for sure made because someone told me along time ago to never tell anyone I had the album because it will get stolen. Anyways, please let me know what you think.. Have a great day, Cindy

  7. Carol Hodges says:

    Dear Mr. Kellog – I just found your site discussing Ringling Bros. VIP items. I was a designer for RB&B when they were developing the Circus World theme park in Florida in the 70’s and have several items that may be of interest to a collector of such materials (if there is one) such as two uncut sheets of “tickets”, posters announcing the “Showcase” opening, opening day paperweight, lion head bottle opener, letterhead, my business card, envelope, check, slides showing signs and banners (all hand painted back then). The letterhead layout is based on a very early Ringling Bros. design and won the national ADDY award of 1976 (or maybe 1975). I had the trophy but have lost it.

    Thank you for your time and a most interesting web site.
    Carol Hodges

  8. we have clyde beatty’s whip .

  9. Lacey says:

    Hi,I don’t think it’s worth anything really. But, I thought I’d ask anyways. I have a lifetime pass given to me when I was born. I know they still do that, so thats why i figured it wasnt worth anything. But, it is from their 200th anniversary. Kenneth Feld has autographed it as well. I’d like to hear what you have to say, although I’m almost certain it’s worth nothing. But thank you!

    • Larry Kellogg says:

      Lacey,

      You are correct. The ticket you have has little value, only the value of a ticket to the circus. It’s not a lifetime pass but a voucher that can be exchanged once, anytime, anywhere with no expiration date. The Baby’s First Circus ticket is still offered for newborns by Ringling on Ringling.com.

  10. chase says:

    Hi i have found one of the train bus looking cookie jars at a thrift store but.it seems to be lacking the “funumdrum” on the side of it, is it an original or a reproduction and i.also.have a leaping tiger mirror which i know is 1 of 500 along with a chest that has a clown on it motioning its hand its a yellow outline and its brown

  11. Kelly Jacobs says:

    I have the 1975 limited edition Tiger leaping mirror that another person commented on earlier this year. I can’t find any information and was told it was one of the gifts handed out. I was wondering what the value would be. Thanks in advance for any information.

  12. Ileana says:

    I currently came across a Ringling brothers mirror that seems to be from the 70’s or 80’s. Wanting to know any information on it, and have had no luck. Wondering if you could provide any information about it. I recently saw one for sale on e-bay that is identical.Here is a picture of it from photobucket. http://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g271/mark0113/mirror.jpg

    • Larry Kellogg says:

      Ileana,

      This is a souvenir sold at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus World, a theme park located in Central Florida near Disney World. The park opened in 1974 and closed in 1986.

      • Ileana says:

        Thank you so much for your quick response. Since then I have tried to read everything I could on Circus World seemed like a fun place to visit!There isn’t much info on the web though. Any idea on where I could find pricing for these types of items? Is there any market for these? Thank you so much for all of your help!

        • Larry Kellogg says:

          Ileana,

          Yes, there is a market for items such as this. Worthpoint can help help you determine value. If you will click on the “Research Your Items” tab you will find two ways to find advice about value—the “Worthopedia – Price Guide” and “Ask a Worthologist – Expert Advice.”

  13. marc says:

    when i was younger my aunt gave a ringling brothers and barnum and bailey circus 100th anniversary rug with a tiger on it. i was wondering if it has any value. thanks for your help

    • Larry Kellogg says:

      Yes, I’m sure your rug has some value but I am not allowed to evaluate items here. If you will click on the “Research Your Items” tab you will find two ways to find advice about value—the “Worthopedia – Price Guide” and “Ask a Worthologist – Expert Advice.”

  14. I have a Lou Jacobs Poster in a frame(date unknown). It is signed & numbered (19/88) on canvas. The number on the cardboard backing is RC6BDB58.It’s dimensions are 25inx36in. It portrays a clown(Lou Jacobs) holding a circus ring in an enlarged hand in front of him with a tiger riding on an elephants back. It is a Ringling Bros.& Barnum Bailey poster. I have looked at a lot of posters and have not seen one like it on any of the pages I have searched. Is there a free appraisal service that can help find out more information about this poster and if it is worth anything? Thanks for any help. It does have a discoloration in the right hand lower corner where the plastic broke. And I do have pictures available. Thank you again

    • Larry Kellogg says:

      Joanne,

      I don’t know of a free evaluation service but you can click on the “Research Your Items” tab you will find two ways to find advice about value—the “Worthopedia – Price Guide” and “Ask a Worthologist – Expert Advice.”

  15. I have 1 of the tigers set on the rose quartz,any idea of the number produced, and ball park value for the piece, i do not have the card with the artist info.

  16. Kristy says:

    Hello, I have a barnum and bailey musical train set that you can hang on a Christmas tree and it plays several Christmas tunes. Can’t seem to find anything about in online.Have you ever heard of it? Thank you.

  17. chris says:

    have a wood chest with Rb&bbc and Ice Follies and Holiday Ice inc. on the lid. the diffrence is to everything else i have seen is it is in yellow paint and has a female skater on the sides and absolutly no marks or serial # like the other one i have seen. Every other one that i have seen is in black ink(i am guessing) and has lions on the sides.
    can you please help me on this?

    • lkellogg@tampabay.rr.com says:

      Chis,

      The wooden chest you describe was not a VIP gift but was a licensed product created for retail sale. The early ones had a roaring tiger on the ends. You have a later chest that was made after Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey purchased Holiday on Ice and Ice Follies in 1979.

  18. Debra Newcombe says:

    I have the first umbrella on this page, Barnum Bailey, Ice Follies, Sigfreid and Roy, etc. can you tell me what it is worth? It is in good condition.

  19. Debra Newcombe says:

    I also have the Circus World Ringling Brothers Grand Opening poster from 1974 in excellent condition, is that a VIP gift?