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The Greatest Sale on Earth

Leslie Hindman’s spring sale highlights the long history of The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus By Peggy Carouthers Peggy Carouthers lives in North Carolina and is the editor of custom content at Journalistic Inc.

During its May 4 Fine Books and Manuscripts auction, Leslie Hindman Auctioneers will welcome one and all into the world of “The Greatest Show on Earth.” This sale will feature one of the largest single-owner collections of circus memorabilia to come to auction in several years, including memorabilia from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, as well as hundreds of different circuses.

This sale is especially exciting for collectors due to the announcement of permanent closure of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus this May after 133 years of operation.

Framed poster for Ringling Brothers’ “Joan of Arc” (1912). Courtesy of Leslie Hindman.

“It’s like stepping back into a time that will never return,” said Jim Sharp, vice president of regional offices and operations for Leslie Hindman. “This memorabilia is part of American history that will never be seen again. The circus was the center of entertainment for many communities throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s.”

This collection was amassed over sixty years by Richard Bennett, one of the last remaining friends of the Ringling family. Bennett personally knew many members of this prominent circus family, including Ida B. Ringling, the last widow of the Ringling Brothers, who died in 1966. Included in the sale are numerous circus lithographs, posters, and photographs, as well as a piano that was owned by Ida Ringling and used in the early days of the circus.

“Mr. Bennett spent countless hours with his friend Ida discussing family and circus history, and many of the items, including the piano, programs, photographs, and route cards were given by Ida directly to Mr. Bennett,” Sharp said.

Framed poster for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s "Lady on a Horse" (1930). Courtesy of Leslie Hindman.

Bennett himself became a performer and traveled across the country with various circuses in the 1960s and ’70s. Inspired by the memorabilia he collected, the fascinating people he met in his travels gifted him property from numerous circuses.

Leslie Hindman’s staff from the auction house’s Chicago and Milwaukee offices has been able to visit Bennett in his home in Baraboo, Wisconsin, and gathered firsthand information from him. This has allowed the auction house to fill in much of the history behind these items to share with collectors, while the house’s six regional offices simultaneously provide international exposure to buyers to ensure a successful sale.

“It has been a privilege for Leslie Hindman Auctioneers to work with Mr. Bennett to bring his collection of over sixty years to auction,” Sharp said. “Mr. Bennett’s extraordinary memory of the Ringling family history and the circus memorabilia has been very beneficial in putting this auction together.”

After more than a century of entertaining families, the closure of this festive enterprise will close a chapter of American history with it. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus will be leaving behind stories and memorabilia, including this collection, for circus enthusiasts and historians alike to cherish for many years to come.

Peggy Carouthers lives in North Carolina and is the editor of custom content at Journalistic Inc.