Folks at the Ringling set up about 250 chairs for people who wanted to witness the unveiling of a new postage stamp. About 600 people showed up.
It was an unusually high turnout for a psotage stamp event, but then it was an unusual event.
The United States Postal Service introduces about 50 or 60 new stamps every year, and has unveiling ceremonies for most of them. But few of those ceremonies have a ringmaster, a musician and clowns on stilts.
"This was the best ceremony I've ever been to," said Bob Roose, a stamp collector from Clearwater who has attended unveilings all around the South. "Maybe the second best."
"They're not usually this elaborate," said his neighbor and fellow philatelist John Hayner.
For the last year, the USPS has been working with the Circus Museum to develop a new series
of stamps that celebrate the circus. They chose eight circus posters from the museum's collection of 8,000 historic circus posters.
"We all, here at the museum, are very excited about seeing these posters on stamps," said Jennifer Lemmer Posey, the assistant curator of the Circus Museum. She oversees circus posters collection.
The images on the stamps are all from the early-20th century. They depict animals, clowns and a guy who walks down stairs on his head.
"The USPS is celebrating 250 years of the circus bringing entertainment to kids of all ages," said Enola Rice, a spokesperson for the USPS.
The limited-edition stamps are on sale now in post offices across the country, as well as online. They'll be sold only in sheets -- or "panes," as stamp enthusiasts call them -- of 16 stamps each. The selling price is $7.84, or 49 cents per stamp. They're "Forever" stamps and can be used for first-class postage any time.
Because it's a limited edition, Rice said, once they're gone they won't be available again. She said she couldn't predict how long that would take, but based on Monday's turnout, she said they may sell quickly.
Nicole Feld, the executive vice president of Feld Entertainment, which owns the Ringling Bros. circus, was scheduled to speak. But she traveled to Rhode Island, the scene of a weekend accident involving circus aerialists who fell from near the ceiling during a performance, leaving two performers in critical condition.
After some remarks by USPS officials and Ringling officials, a group of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey clowns unveiled a mural-size display of the pane of stamps, on a stage set up in front of the Ca' d'Zan mansion on the Ringling grounds. A brief performance on a bell wagon -- a large instrument designed to be pulled by horses in circus parades - followed. Then people lined up to buy the stamps and related memorabilia.
Even though the stamps are easily available online, (at usps.com), hundreds of people stood in long lines to buy them at the Ringling.
One of them was Wayne Scheiner of Northport, a stamp collector and a circus enthusiast.
"We've had circus stamps before, but nothing like this," he said.
The last circus-themed stamp came out 30 years ago, he said, and a previous one was issued in 1965.
The posters adapted for the new stamps come from a collection on loan to the Circus Museum from Howard and Janice Tibbals.
Howard Tibbals was a circus modeler -- a hobbyist who builds scaled-down representations of circus vehicles and structures -- when he started his poster collection 36 years ago,
"I got a call from a friend who said 'I'm going to sell my collection,'" Tibbals said. "From the time the phone rang until I bought them was about three minutes."
There were 2,200 posters in that collection, and the Tibbals' collection now includes about 6,000, which are now housed at the Circus Museum. Many are currently on exhibit.
"We're really excited to be featured by the post office," said Steven High, the executive director of the Ringling. "We hope it will encourage people to come out and check out our collection, which is one of the best in the world, if not the best in the world."
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.