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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