New stamp series features art from Sarasota's Ringling

The new series of features images from a Ringling collection of circus posters

mclear@bradenton.comMay 4, 2014 

It's an unusual kind of art unveiling for an institution as auspicious as the Ringling.

On Monday, officials from the Circus Museum at the Ringling will be on hand, along with clowns and officials from the U.S. Postal Service for a ceremony to introduce a new series of postage stamps.

For the past year, the USPS has been working with the Circus Museum to develop a new series of stamps to celebrate the circus. They chose eight circus posters from the museum's collection.

"We all, here at the museum, are very excited about seeing these posters on stamps," said Jennifer Lemmer Posey. "We're always looking for ways to celebrate the circus and related arts."

She's the assistant curator of the Circus Museum, and she oversees the museum's collection of circus posters.

The collection includes about 8,000 posters. Most of them, about 6,000, are part of a "planned gift" from Howard and Janice Tibbals. That means the posters are currently on loan to the museum, but the museum will eventually own them.

It was Posey who got the call last year from a design company that works with the USPS.

It's a complicated process, Posey said, but essentially the USPS has a board of governors who decided it would be a good idea to create a series of stamps that celebrated the art of the circus. The USPS has a group of design companies it works with, and contracted one of them to create the stamps. Someone from that firm was familiar with the Circus Museum's collection and called Posey.

"It was a little bit strange, because you don't actually get anything from the USPS," she said.

She declined to name the design company because, she said, "they have to stay in the background."

But representatives from that company met with Posey and examined the collection, and selected eight posters that would they would turn into stamps. The designers asked for feedback from museum officials about the historical significance of various posters, and took that into account when they chose the images, Posey said.

All eight came from the Tibbals' collection. They're all examples of early 20th-century posters, which tended to feature bold images and bright colors.

Circus posters as we know them date back to about 1870, she said, but the early

20th-century posters have a distinctive style.

"In 1870, there was a lot of pedestrian traffic so the posters had a lot of information," she said. "By the early 20th century, people were moving faster, so the posters had to grab people's attention. They had to have these big, iconic circus images."

At Monday's ceremony, which is free and open to the pubic, officials of the Ringling and the USPS will unveil a "pane," which is postal lingo for a page of stamps. There will be 16 stamps on the pane.

The unveiling won't be a typical art event, nor a typical philatelic event. It will feature a ringmaster and clowns, as well as a concert by the Ringling Bros. bell wagon.

A bell wagon is an instrument with lots of bells, designed to be drawn by horses in parade. The Ringing Bros. bell wagon had been on loan to a museum in Wisconsin for about 30 years, but was recently moved to Palmetto when Feld Entertainment, which owns Ringling Bros., moved all its operations there.

Monday's event will be the first opportunity for the public to buy the stamps, which will sell for $7.84 per pane. (They're "forever" stamps, so they can be used for first-class letters even if rates are increased.) Collectors can also get first-day stamps canceled with a Sarasota postmark.

The unveiling ceremony is set for 11 a.m. Monday near the Ca d'Zan mansion at 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, on the Ringling grounds. The stamps eventually will available at post offices throughout the country.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow

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