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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