Elephants—the Wonder of the Circus—Make for Specialized Collectible Category
As the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has announced it is ending its iconic elephant acts, saying they will be phased out by 2018, we thought it would be a nice chance to look back at an article about circus elephant collectibles our Larry Kellogg wrote on Sept. 7, 2010. Elephant acts have been showcased by the Ringling circus for more than a century – Editor.
This Artotype photo of Jumbo the elephant is valued at $50, however this copy of the photo was found in the early years of eBay for only $5. It was advertised simply as “a large elephant.”
Here come the elephants! Surveys of the circus-going public consistently rate the elephant as their favorite act. In fact, in America we have been paying to see them since 1796, when Captain Jacob Crowninshield brought the first elephant to this country. We don’t know the animal’s name. It was simply advertised as The Elephant.
This newspaper ad appeared in the July 25, 1796 issue of an Aurora, N.Y. newspaper. It advertises The Elephant as “the first that was ever upon this continent,” and announces the viewing price is half a dollar for grown persons and a quarter of a dollar for children. Today’s value of this newspaper is $40-50.
The second elephant in America arrived in the early 1800s. Hachaliah Bailey (1774-1845) of Somers, N.Y. purchased the elephant for $1,000 and named her Old Bet. He gathered other animals and toured his small traveling menagerie around the area. Old Bet was killed when an angry farmer shot the elephant. Bailey erected a statue in front of his Elephant Hotel to honor his elephant.
The Elephant Hotel in Somers, N.Y. is now a National Historic Landmark and currently serves as the Somers Town Hall. This recent chrome postcard of the Somers, N.Y. Elephant Hotel and statue can be found for less than a dollar.
By far, the most famous elephant of all time was Jumbo, purchased from the London Zoo in 1882 for $10,000 by P.T. Barnum. The pachyderm was so well known that the name “Jumbo” became part of our vocabulary. The “Merriam-Webster Dictionary” describes the word “jumbo” as an adjective meaning “a very large specimen of its kind” and says the origin of the word is “a huge elephant exhibited by P.T. Barnum.”
This 1883 Greatest Show On Earth courier has portraits of the three principals on the cover—J.A. Bailey, P.T. Barnum & J.L. Hutchinson. Note that under Barnum’s portrait in the center it says: P.T. Barnum & Jumbo. Inside the courier, an entire page is devoted to Jumbo and the other elephants in the show. Throughout the 16-page courier, there are mentions of Jumbo—“Wait for Barnum & Jumbo,” “No extra charge to see Jumbo” and other enticing verbiage. A similar courier sold at auction in 2008 for $692.00.
Jumbo was killed when struck by a train on Sept. 15, 1885, but for a number of years Barnum continued to exhibit his skeleton and stuffed hide. Jumbo is featured on this page from a courier published for the London engagement of The Greatest Show On Earth, which began Nov. 11, 1889. Value of the courier is $100.
Two excellent books about Jumbo can be found on the Internet for $5-10 each. Both were originally published in England. “Jumbo,” by W.P. Jolly, is copyrighted 1976. “Jumbo The Greatest Elephant in the World,” by Paul Chambers, is copyrighted 2008.
In 1884, Barnum introduced the Royal Sacred White Elephant but much of the public was disappointed. In Barnum’s autobiography he said “When my Sacred Elephant arrived in London, a large portion of the public, having expected to see a milk-white elephant, were disappointed.”
The Graphic newspaper featured Barnum’s White Elephant on the cover of its Jan. 26, 1884 issue. Value of this newspaper is $15-20.
Fairbanks & Company, manufacturer of scales, issued this trade card showing Barnum’s White Elephant being weighed. Value is $25-30.
In more recent years, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has headlined several elephants. The 117th Edition of The Greatest Show On Earth, which began touring in 1987, featured King Tusk, “The Largest Land Mammal on the Face of the Earth.” The baby elephants Romeo and Juliette were the main attraction in the 124th Edition beginning in 1994. The Bo and Bello show in 2001 teamed comic daredevil Bello Nock with Bo, the elephant.
Souvenir programs from three years when Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey featured elephants. These programs are valued at $5-10 each.
The public loves elephants in the circus, but so does the media. For many years local TV & radio personalities, newspaper reporters and local VIPs were given the opportunity to ride an elephant from the Ringling circus train to the venue where the circus would be appearing. Riders were given a certificate of accomplishment upon completing the ride.
Certificates like this are valued at $5-10.
When I was still working to help publicize The Greatest Show On Earth, one of my goals was to make sure Ringling was featured on the covers of the entertainment sections of the local newspapers. In 1998 I was concerned because the entertainment section the week prior to our opening was to be published on Christmas Day. I approached the editor of the St. Petersburg Times, “Well, I guess we won’t be getting the cover this year, since your section will be coming out on Christmas Day.” He immediately replied, “Get me a photo of an elephant wearing a Santa hat and I’ll put it on the cover.” I assured him we could make it happen and immediately returned to Winter Quarters. We put a call in to the prop department to make a giant Santa hat and scheduled Asia the elephant for a photo shoot. As promised, the photo did appear on the cover.
Asia the elephant appeared on the cover of the Christmas Day, December 25, 1998 issue of Weekend, the entertainment section published by the St. Petersburg Times.
Those of us who were at the photo shoot took turns posing. This is my photo with Asia. I love elephants. Value of this photo: Priceless.
Here are a few other elephant collectibles:
This postcard shows Little Miracle, a baby elephant born at the Sells-Floto Circus Winter Quarters in 1916. Value is $15-20.
A metal letter opener from the 1920s or 30s was used as a gift to media and VIPs. Value is $30-50.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey established the Center for Elephan Conservation in 1995. The $5 million, state-of-the-art facility is dedicated to the conservation, breeding and understanding of the Asian elephant. In April 2010, the 23rd elephant calf was born at the center. This color folder is a media kit with photos and media releases about the center. Value is $15-20.
Click here to view the Center for Elephant Conservation Web site.
Collector plates are a very popular licensed Ringling item. The first series, by artist Franklin Moody, was released in 1981. All plates were numbered and came with a certificate. The second plate in the first series was this one entitled “Elephants—The Wonder of the Circus.” The original price was around $30 but they can sometimes be found on the internet for less than $5.
This Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey elephant headpiece came from the Circus World Theme Park, which was opened by the circus in 1973. The park closed in 1986. I was communications manager at the park in 1982. Value of the headpiece is $500-750.
Larry Kellogg is a WorthPoint Worthologist specializing in circus memorabilia.
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