No, not a prequel to The Thief, the Cook, His Wife and Her Lover, it’s a CDV by an unidentified photographer of Tom Thumb, his wife, and her sister Minnie Warren.
The latest addition to the collection of Tom Thumb images, this was one I hadn’t seen before. Clipped corners aside, it’s in quite good condition overall. Certainly the image is very clear and sharp, and the print has minimal wear. In the conversation I had with Zoe Trodd, the co-author of Picturing Frederick Douglass, she triggered an interesting thought. The main thesis of Picturing Frederick Douglass is that he is the most-photographed American of the 19th century. I was skeptical of this as his images on the secondary collector market are not common, however the book does document her case rather thoroughly, with 150-some distinct images of him known. This got me to wondering how many different images of my favorite subject to collect are there. I’ll enumerate the Tom Thumb images I have below:
These are the ones I have in my collection. I know there are more out there that I don’t have (one particular one from the wedding, and at least two from the London Stereoscopic Company). This puts me at 15, eighteen if you count the ones I know but don’t have. It’s a far cry from the 150 of Frederick Douglass, but I’m going to keep hunting and collecting and tallying up. Having been a star of stage and circus for most of his life, he was dependent on publicity for his career and would have worked hard to keep his image in the public eye.
The newest addition to the collection of CDVs of little people sideshow performers – Admiral Dot, age thirteen.
I would take his age, height and weight in this photo with a grain of salt – the producers of these CDVs were prone to mis-statement, exaggeration and even outright lies about the subject’s physical traits as part of the sideshow hype. Fat men and women were often described as sometimes a hundred plus pounds bigger than they were. “Giants” were often endowed with an additional six or seven inches in height. In this case, I’ve managed to wangle a series of Admiral Dot at three different ages- 13, 14 and 18. In the span of five years he’s gained an inch (not unbelievable) and only five pounds.
Admiral Dot was born Leopold Kahn in San Francisco. He had two brothers, also little people, who also went on to become sideshow performers – Major Atom and General Pin. He began his career working for P.T. Barnum, but went on to perform with other companies of little people, married another little person, Lottie Swartood, and have two children before dying from the Spanish Flu during the 1918 epidemic at the age of 59. While I do have images of Major Atom, I have yet to come across one of General Pin – he must not have had the career his two siblings did.
Here is my CDV of Major Atom. Can you see a family resemblance?
It’s been a very long time since I collected any additional CDVs. Perhaps a year or more. So I was overdue. Here is another one of my circus freaks (I’m using the period appropriate term for them, no disrespect meant to any little people who might find the term offensive): Admiral Dot, a contemporary and colleague of Tom Thumb. This is my third CDV of Admiral Dot, but the first one to have the photographer identified on the verso. The other two were from negatives sold to E & HT Anthony who then reproduced them with their own stamp, no other credit supplied.
I’m really starting to think of these circus performer CDVs as a subspecies of occupational image – they’re showing the performers in their stage attire, doing what they do to get paid. It’s not exactly the same thing as a cobbler with a leather apron, some awls and a shoe, or a cooper with a hammer, metal hoops and barrel staves, but nonetheless, they are enacting for the camera that which they do professionally.
Here’s another rather rare image – a portrait of what appears to be an actor by Camille Silvy. Camille Silvy was a French photographer who moved to London in 1858 and opened a studio at 38 Porchester Terrace, Bayswater. He photographed society clients, including many members of the British royal family, as well as royals of other nations (the queen of Hawaii among others). According to Wikipedia,
He closed his studio and returned to France in 1868. He himself believed that his nervous system had been damaged by exposure to potassium cyanide in the darkroom but it more likely that he suffered from manic depression. The last thirty years of his life were spent in a succession of hospitals, sanatoria and convalescent homes.
So he had a working career in London of approximately 10 years, in which he made over 17,000 sittings – rather productive for a short career. That’s about six portraits a day, 300+ days a year. According to the Wikipedia entry, the National Portrait Gallery in London has his daybooks, which include 12,000 photo illustrations to accompany the records of sittings. I’d love to visit them and see if I could find out who this actor was. Maybe next year when I return the favor to visit my friends Peter and Mirza who came to see me in Paris.
At first I was wondering why a CDV of an American historian would have ended up in the United Kingdom (the seller I bought this from is in England). After reading up on who George Bancroft was, now it makes sense. George Bancroft, in addition to being an historian, was Secretary of the US Navy, founder of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, and served as the US Minister to the United Kingdom from 1846-49. After the Civil War, he also did a stint as minister to Berlin from 1867-1874. He lived to the ripe old age of 91, dying in 1891.
His political life should not be seen to overshadow his academic life – he entered Harvard at age 13 and graduated at 17, and went on to study in Europe under some of the greatest academics and philosophers of the day. He authored a ten-volume set on the history of the United States, entitled, humbly enough “A History of the United States, from the Discovery of the American Continent to the Present Day”.
I also thought you, my loyal readers, could stand a break from all the Paris photos. They’ll resume soon enough.
When I had previously posted this image, I stated that I didn’t know the identities of everyone, especially the little person on the right, although I had seen him before somewhere. Well, troll Ebay long enough and another image will show up. He’s Colonel Small. The other little man is Commodore Foote. I’m not certain of the identity of the little woman in the middle, but all three were Barnum performers.
I’m feeling a little bit like doing a review of the little people in my collection, so here goes nothing:
I’ve seen her name spelled Fritchie (there was a local chain of pancake houses in the Northern Maryland/Southern Pennsylvania area called Barbara Fritchie’s Waffle House. We had one on Main Street in Chambersburg, PA when I was growing up. I think it’s still there, and still has a 1930s/40s decor. I need to get up there and photograph it before they renovate and/or close it down and convert it into a Starbucks or something). The story, as rather floridly recounted in the poem on the carte, is that she was a 90 year old widow, living in Frederick, Maryland. Stonewall Jackson’s troops were marching through Frederick and saw the Union flag flying above her house. They shot it down, but she retrieved it and continued to wave it out her window. Stonewall Jackson was so moved by her devoted patriotism (even if for the other side) that he ordered his men to leave it and her alone.
There are variations on her story – I’ve seen her age listed anywhere between 90 and 95. The spelling of her name is inconsistent.
The photo, by Mathew Brady, was printed up with the John Greenleaf Whittier poem. The photo is not actually by Brady – that is to say, it is a copy of an existing daguerreotype of Barbara Fritchie, made by Brady. She never sat for him, because by the time the poem was written and the carte de visite created, she had been dead over a year. According to Wikipedia, the whole incident that inspired the poem never actually happened, as Jackson’s troops never marched up her street, but in fact were almost a quarter mile away:
The flag incident in the poem likely never occurred, however, as Barbara Fritchie was sick in bed that day. She told the housekeeper to hide all valuables to prevent looting, and to take in the U.S. flag that hung outside, but it was never moved, and as a result was shot up by the Confederate troops. Accounts differ as to how the legend that inspired the poem arose. The flag, a symbol of the need for myth in times of war, may be seen in the Barbara Fritchie House and Museum.
History disproves the poem with the fact that the Confederate troops never passed by her house. Although they were within range of sight, they would only have been heard by Mrs. Fritchie if they had yelled to her at the top of their lungs.
The troops marched south on Bentz Street and turned west on Patrick Street. To have passed Barbara Fritchie’s house, they would have needed to turn east and march a minimum of 1000 feet to have been at her door.
The woman who inspired the poem, and who was brandishing the flag in front of the Confederate troops, was actually Mary Quantrell who lived on Patrick Street.
In 1899, John Greenleaf Whittier was quoted in a New York Times article based on a letter he wrote to the Frederick Examiner shortly before his death, vouching that he had no knowledge that the Barbara Fritchie incident was a hoax. What Whittier Knew
The Brady image was made to sell at the Great Sanitary Fair in Philadelphia in 1864. Sanitary Fairs
…were civilian-organized bazaars and expositions dedicated to raising funds on behalf of the United States Sanitary Commission (USSC) and other charitable relief organizations. Over the course of the Civil War, they became one of the most popular means of fundraising for the Union cause. from Philadelphiaencyclopedia.org
The name sounds somewhat misleading today in that it lends the aura of having something to do with bathing the participants. In fact, they were about protecting the health and welfare of soldiers in the field. the US Sanitary Commission was a relief organization, analagous to the Red Cross, that provided everything from bandages to nurses to food in the camps, and did what they could to enforce healthy living conditions for soldiers and the wounded in hospitals.
Here is a CDV of Suzie Reed, another one of Barnum’s Little People. The image is by Brady, even though the backmark just says E. & H.T. Anthony. The image is documented in the Meserve Collection, which was a collection of Brady images assembled by Frederick Hill Meserve that ended up being one of the largest repositories of Brady’s work not held in a museum. Another notable hallmark is the “reaper” clock, which made a regular if infrequent appearance (there are some 60 known images by Brady featuring the clock, but more may exist in the negatives as the clock may have been cropped out of the final prints). There’s a great article about the clock online – Bob Frishman’s Story of the Brady ‘Reaper’ Clock.
This is a cabinet card (roughly 4×6″), as opposed to most of the CDVs I’ve been collecting, which are 2 1/2″ x 4″-ish. Major Littlefinger and his wife are depicted here, circa 1880, on a cabinet card by Eisenmann, “the Popular Photographer” who specialized in photographing the theatrical profession (and by theatrical profession, I mean that in the broadest terms – he not only photographed actors and musicians, but sideshow performers and circus freaks, basically anyone who could be called an “entertainer”).
I’ve had a devil of a time trying to decipher the photographer’s name on the back – the best I can tell is it’s either H.B. Gerncore or H.L. Ger-something-something. In any case, it’s a beautiful photo of a strikingly proportionate little person. I’m frankly not even entirely sure he’s a little person and not just a pre-teen in a well-tailored suit. But the top hat and tails make it more likely he’s an adult sideshow or circus performer.
Here’s yet another photo of Tom Thumb and company, this time in the outfits they wore to meet Napoleon III. Also an Anthony print, with the facsimile signatures on the back. Again no attribution of the photographer, so while it is possible it’s a Brady, it’s likely not. Notice the hand-coloring of the women’s garlands and the men’s watch chains.