The Greatest Show on Earth

Gene Moore's Tiffany Circus

by Levi Higgs

After nearly two years of the world spending its leisure time in some varying degree of lockdown, it is safe to say that society has learned how to entertain itself from the comforts of one’s own home. Entertainment has always been a crucial balm throughout history to help optimistic revelers forget their troubles, and learn to live and laugh once again. There are comforting television programs, cozy films, engrossing books, challenging puzzles, and beautiful artwork to engage with, however the decorative arts are sometimes forgotten as conduits for entertainment in this modern age. It is a beautiful revelation that a stationary object, positioned within your own living space, can whisk one off to a wonderland of imagination with a single glance. This set of sterling silver objects made by Tiffany & Co. and designed by Gene Moore will do exactly that for their new owner. 

Gene Moore (1910-1998) designed the window displays at Tiffany & Co. for over three decades.

At Tiffany & Co., the role Gene Moore played was that of the ringleader to the most spectacular show that happened every day on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street in New York City, in the windows of the behemoth Tiffany Flagship Store. Behind the plate glass, Moore orchestrated stories and fantasies that delighted the bustling crowds of the city for decades, from the mid 1950s to the late 1990s. The list of famous windows executed by Moore is endless, often pushing boundaries, creating narratives, and working with contemporary artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Andy Warhol. His handiwork was even observed by one Holly Golightly in the opening iconic scenes of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Late in his career, Moore was taking his story-telling beyond the windows of Tiffany, and stretching his creative wings by designing select jewelry and objects for the well known American firm. 

In the late 1980s, Moore was inspired to design a set of sterling silver objects that were themed around a glorious and imaginative circus. Each object was meticulously shaped and formed, and colored with vibrant enamel. Tiffany has a long history of creating objects in sterling silver, from massive silver dining sets, to ceremonial urns and trophies like one might see on display at the American Wing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Tiffany window displays designed by Gene Moore including pieces from his Circus series, 1990. Images courtesy Smithsonian Institution

This particular set of over sixty figurines was owned by the Hollywood and Broadway producer Robert Boyett, who worked on family-oriented television sitcoms such as Happy Days, Family Matters, and Laverne and Shirley. His production company also had a hand in producing hits on the Great White Way including To Kill a Mockingbird, Spamalot and Dear Evan Hansen

It is rare to see so many of these Gene Moore circus figures amassed together, but Boyett kept collecting the pieces over the years to gather quite the troupe of fantastical circus performers. Grouped into twelve separate lots, there are scenes for every type of collector. There are galloping horses with ladies balanced on one foot, juggling clowns, a bear on roller skates, three monkeys stacked each with an accordion in hand, and my favorite, dinosaurs saddled with colorful acrobat riders. The dinosaurs in particular indicate this is an other-wordly scene, brimming with fanciful merriment. In addition to the single figures, the collection also includes a Ferris wheel and a carousel, each colorful beyond belief with detailed silver and enameled figures within. 

There is a time-honored tradition in the world of entertainment that the show must go on. Even when the world may be on pause in some regards, this set of silver Tiffany & Co. objects will ensure the curtain always rises on the greatest show on earth, taking place strewn around one’s living room. This circus will surely cheer and enliven any domestic setting, enticing the viewer’s eye to follow the ongoing show from coffee table, to book case, to mantlepiece. It is the perfect embodiment of a way to bring the Big Top into one’s home in this time of introspection and grand imagination. 

Gene Moore Circus by Tiffany & Co.