Vintage Circus Poster Stamps Unveiled at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Fla.

This sheet of 16 self-adhesive forever stamps features reproductions of eight vintage circus posters.

In true circus style, clowns, a ringmaster and music from a 120-year-old Bell Wagon—all provided by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey—accompanied the unveiling of a series of commemorative United States forever postage stamps earlier this month on the grounds of The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Fla. This is the fourth time the United States Postal Service (USPS) has issued stamps with a circus theme.

The Bell Wagon was featured in Cecil B. DeMille’s Academy Award-winning motion picture, “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Ringmaster David Shipman and Ringling clowns helped unveil the Vintage Circus Poster Stamp Collection. John Ringling’s home, Cà d’Zan, is in the background. (Photo: Feld Entertainment, Inc. 2014)

The unveiling event was open to the public at no charge. While supplies lasted, guests received a First-Day-of-Issue Ceremony Program and a Souvenir Fan.

The Souvenir Program was in an envelope affixed with one of the forever stamps and cancelled with a First-Day-of-Issue postmark. The Souvenir Fans were well-used by the assembled audience to cool off a bit in the Florida sunshine.

The United States Postal Service set up kiosks on the grounds of the Ringling Museum so those attending could purchase stamps and have them cancelled with an official First-Day-of-Issue postmark.

There were long lines throughout the day as guests waited to purchase stamps.

In 2010 I wrote two WorthPoint articles about circus postal stamps. One featured circus and circus related stamps in the United States. The other was about foreign circus stamps. While stamp collecting is less popular today than in the early to mid-20th century, the Postal Service estimates that 11 percent of the U.S. population collects stamps. That’s nearly 35 million collectors.

Dozens of stamps were shown in the quarterly issue of “USA Philatelic,” including many new issues, but USPS chose the Vintage Circus Posters Stamps for the cover.

This latest stamp issue is impressive because it reproduces eight historic circus posters. All of those posters are from the more than 5,000 posters in the Tibbals Digital Collection at the Ringling Circus Museum, part of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. America has always had a love affair with the circus. The USPS obviously agrees, as it chose the Circus Poster Stamps for the cover of its quarterly publication, “USA Philatelic.” 

An article in “Linn’s Stamp News” says that 60 million of the stamps were printed. The pane selvage shows an image of the Big Top entrance taken from a photograph by Edward J. Kelty, a well-known circus photographer of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. I wrote about Kelty and other circus photographers in a 2009 WorthPoint article.

The stamp panes are available at your local United States Post Office. Many souvenir products, including First-Day-Covers, can be purchased online at USPS.com.


 

Larry Kellogg is a Worthologist specializing in circus memorabilia.

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