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”).
More about Major Littlefinger – from http://phreeque.tripod.com/major_littlefinger.html
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.
Here’s a CDV of Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren, in middle age. This is an E&HT Anthony CDV, with the facsimile dedication on the verso. The studio that took the photo is unknown, as it is not credited. It is possible that it is a Brady image, as Anthony owned the Brady negatives in later years, but it is also very possible that it is by someone else who sold the negative to Anthony, or was commissioned by Tom Thumb and/or P.T. Barnum to take the photo.
This image is NOT Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren. The little man on the left may be Commodore Nutt, but the woman is definitely not Lavinia Warren OR her sister Minnie, and the little man on the right is definitely not Tom Thumb either. I have seen his image before on other CDVs where it is just him, but I don’t have one of them and I can’t recall the name either. He’s a big name in the 19th century little people sideshow circuit, but I’m drawing a blank (if memory serves, I’ve seen his solo CDVs sell for upwards of $150 each). This CDV is in overall outstanding condition, pinholes at the top of the card mount excepted – the albumen print still looks new.
These were bought as a pair, and were owned by the same individual in the past – it is the same handwriting on the verso that identifies the little people as Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren (correctly on the one card, wrongly on the other).
Here are the Thumbs, Commodore Nutt and Minnie Warren in the outfits they wore when presented to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Given that the image was produced by E&HT Anthony, in all likelihood it was taken by Mathew Brady in New York upon their return to the US after meeting the Queen. The verso contains the usual “Compliments of …” facsimile signatures of the four subjects. This probably was commissioned by P.T. Barnum to sell at his American Museum.
Another cabinet card of Lavinia Warren Stratton Magri and the Magri brothers, Baron Littlefinger and Count Rosebud. I don’t know why I find them so fascinating, but they are. Just the notion of the cult of celebrity going back that far when we think of it as being a modern (at least a 20th century) thing.
I bet you didn’t realize what paparazzi-junkies the Thumbs were. Charles Stratton and Lavinia Warren were frequently photographed, throughout their life. I don’t know if they profited from the sale of their photographs or not – I would hope they did, but given the general state of intellectual property ethics in the later half of the 19th century, I highly doubt it. Often the photographers themselves didn’t, as others would buy one copy of their image, re-photograph it and sell it themselves at a cheaper price!
Here they are, at middle age, in an anonymous CDV. I think this may be a copy of someone else’s photo, although if it is it’s a very good one, because it has no photographer’s stamp on the verso (and because it is such a good image, it strikes me as odd that there is no stamp taking credit).
In doing some more digging around, I found another copy of the same image. This one had a stamp on the bac from the photographer – a K(?).C. ????, Photographs and Ferrotypes, ??? Main Street, Bridgeport, CT. The Thumbs resided in Connecticut in their later years, so this is entirely reasonable.
Also, the blotchy mottling at the margins of the image is present in both copies, so I assume it is actually in the original negative, which is a relief.
P.T. Barnum never passed up an opportunity to promote himself. So, when the top star in his showbiz empire, the midget performer Charles Stratton, announced plans to marry his fellow midget stage star Lavinia Warren in January 1863, Barnum celebrated the news by immediately starting a public-relations blitz.
The reading public’s celebrity mania and the media’s zeal to sell newspapers proved a huge boon for business to the attention-hungry Barnum. In return, the happy buzz which Barnum created for Stratton’s impending marriage provided war-weary Northerners a momentary diversion from the unrelenting march of bad news, even knocking war reports off the front pages for a while.
Barnum plucked Stratton, a poor carpenter’s son from Bridgeport, Conn., from obscurity at the age of 4 in 1842 because of his remarkable size. The boy’s growth had halted between the ages of 6 months and 9 years; he measured only 32 inches tall at the time of his death in 1883. Performing under the stage name General Tom Thumb, Stratton immediately hit it big with New York audiences at Barnum’s American Museum with his song and dance routines and costumed impersonations of Napoleon, Cupid and a Scottish Highlander. A European tour followed these early successes in 1844, during which he gave public appearances, as well as private command performances before European royalty, including a young Queen Victoria.
Over the next two decades, Stratton’s showbiz career made him one of the most famous and fabulously wealthy celebrities of his generation. Far from feeling exploited by Barnum, Stratton and his boss became fast friends, and later, he even partnered in business with the showman.
In January 1863, Barnum signed on a new performer, Lavinia Warren, a midget also 32 inches tall whom he billed as “The Little Queen of Beauty” and “The Smallest Woman Alive.” Stratton was immediately smitten, and within a matter of weeks, he popped the question.
Once the news hit the New York papers, attendance at Warren’s appearances at the museum became, in Barnum’s words, “crowded to suffocation.” Profits from ticket and memorabilia sales soared to over $3,000 a day for weeks, further enhanced as Barnum began selling $75 tickets for the wedding reception (he decided not to sell tickets to the ceremony itself).
Despite the breathlessly enthusiastic tone of media coverage, some onlookers openly cast suspicion on Barnum’s motives. “When Mr. Barnum brings the church and its solemn rites into his show business, he outrages public decency,” intoned The Brooklyn Eagle. “We are surprised that the clergy, or representatives of so respectable a body as the Episcopal Church should, for a moment, allow themselves to be used by this Yankee showman to advertise his business.”
The Rev. Morgan Dix agreed. Rector of the hoped-for wedding site, Trinity Parish in New York, he vetoed the plan, so wedding planners moved the event to Grace Church farther up Broadway instead.
On the eagerly awaited day — Feb. 10, 1863 — 2,000 invited guests, a who’s who of governors, business tycoons and generals, gathered in Grace Church, vastly outnumbered by the crowds waiting in the streets outside in hopes of catching a glimpse of the pair. Battalions of police officers lined the processional route along Broadway, which the city had closed to traffic for the duration of the event.
The wedding party’s arrival outside the church at half past noon touched off a stampede among combatants fighting for a close-up view. The police restrained them only with extreme exertion. Inside, “an instantaneous uprising ensued,” The New York Times reported the following day. “All looked, few saw. Many stood upon the seats, others stood upon stools placed on the seats. By many, good breeding was forgotten. By very many the sanctity of the occasion and the sacredness of the ceremonies were entirely ignored. As the little party toddled up the aisle, a sense of the ludicrous seemed to hit many a bump of fun, and irrepressible and unpleasantly audible giggles ran through the church.”
After the ceremony, the hordes chased the couple’s carriage on foot to the Metropolitan Hotel, the reception site, where there awaited a treasury of lavish jewelry, furs and fine watches from the likes of the Vanderbilts, the Astors, the Lincolns and even Edwin Booth, the Shakespearean actor and brother of future Lincoln assassin, John Wilkes Booth.
Then it was time to hit the road, with stops in Philadelphia and finally Washington, where Abraham Lincoln hosted a reception at the White House for the Strattons, the president’s family and his cabinet.
Coming out to greet the couple, Lincoln shook hands with the two gingerly, almost as if he was afraid of breaking them. Lincoln told Stratton that he had been placed “completely in the shade,” for, since his arrival in the capital, Stratton had been “the greater center of attraction.”
As the president’s 9-year-old son Tad stood beside his mother, Mary Todd Lincoln, he gazed awestruck at the sight, saying quietly at last, “Mother, isn’t it funny that father is so tall, and Mr. and Mrs. Stratton are so little?” Lincoln, overhearing the remark, replied, “My boy, it is because Dame Nature sometimes delights in doing funny things. You need not seek for any other reason, for here you have the short and the long of it,” pointing to Stratton and himself.
The next day the Strattons and Benjamin Warren, brother of the bride and a soldier on leave from the 40th Massachusetts Regiment, toured an Army encampment on Arlington Heights across the Potomac. Long afterward , Lavinia Warren reminisced, “As we rode through the vast camp, we were greeted with cheers, throwing up of caps, and shouts from all sides, such as, ‘General, I saw you last down in Maine!’ — ‘I saw you in Boston!’ — ‘Three cheers for General Tom Thumb and his little wife!’ It seemed a joy to them to see a face which recalled to their minds memories of happy days at home.”
The marriage lasted until Stratton’s sudden death by stroke in 1883. Lavinia Warren soon remarried, and died in 1919.
Sources: The New York Times, Feb. 11, 1863; “Mrs. Tom Thumb’s Autobiography,” New York Tribune Sunday Magazine, Sept. 16, 1906; “Some Recollections: the Story of My Marriage and Honeymoon,” New York Tribune Sunday Magazine, Oct. 7, 1906; “Tom Thumb and His Wife,” Harper’s Weekly, Feb. 21, 1863; P.T. Barnum, The Life of P.T. Barnum”; The Brooklyn Eagle, Jan. 26, 1863; “Sketch Of The Life, Personal Appearance, Character And Manners Of Charles S. Stratton, The Man In Miniature, Known As General Tom Thumb, And His Wife, Lavinia Warren Stratton; Including The History Of Their Courtship And Marriage, With Some Account Of Remarkable Dwarfs, Giants, & Other Human Phenomena, Of Ancient And Modern Times, And Songs Given At Their Public Levees.”
By KEVIN MORROW
The original story in the NY Times was illustrated by an engraving owned by the Library of Congress depicting the Fairy Wedding. I’ll recap my collection of their photos here to provide better illustrations.
Two more little people. This collecting of circus folk, specifically little people, makes me wonder if anyone has ever written about the Victorian fixation with little people. Compared to today there seems to be a veritable cornucopia of them in the Victorian era – today there’s the family on Little People, Big World (the reality TV show), Vern Troyer, Hornswoggle (part of the WWE cast), Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister on Game of Thrones) and the lady who played E.T. That’s really about it. But in the 1860s-1890s, there was Tom Thumb, Commodore Nutt, Lavinia Warren, Minnie Warren, Admiral Dot, Major Atom, General Cardenas, The Magri brothers, Nellie Keeler, the Rice Family, Che Mah, Maj. S.E. Houghton, and Chas. Decker. And that’s just to name some of the better known ones whose images I’ve collected. I’ll even go out on a limb and include Waino and Plutano on that list although I think strictly speaking they weren’t midgets/dwarves. Perhaps it was a side effect of marginalization – in the Victorian era, if you were not an able-bodied white male, employment options were VERY limited for you. There may not have been any greater percent of the population born with disabilities/physical deviations in the last half of the 19th century, but perhaps we know of more of them because the only thing they could do to survive was go into show business.
I was particularly intrigued by Mr. Tower, by L.J. Hurd, because not only is he atypically large for a little person, and relatively proportionate, but the note on the back from the photographer caught my attention: “L.J. Hurd, Artist, Traveling Photograph Gallery. The Plate from which this was made will be preserved one month.” This is the first time I’ve seen anyone specify a lifespan for a negative – most of them have said something to the effect of “reprints available at any time”. It makes perfect sense to discard/recycle your glass plates every month if you’re an itinerant photographer. Glass is heavy and a pain to haul around. IF that was true of this image, in all probability this is unique or nearly so. Then again, if Mr. Tower was a well-known performer, this could be one of dozens if not hundreds that Mr. Hurd printed and sold, and he probably retained the negative beyond his stated month.
Two more recent acquisitions. One is a solo of Minnie Warren, the sister of Lavinia Warren Stratton (aka Mrs. Tom Thumb). She played maid of honor at her sister’s wedding as a bookend to Commodore Nutt being Tom Thumb’s best man, helping set the stage for P.T. Barnum’s “Fairy Wedding”. This is another in the Brady grouping of photos related to the wedding. Note the E&HT Anthony embossed seal on the card.
Minnie Warren did marry, but not Commodore Nutt – she married yet another little person stage performer, Edmund Newell, aka General Grant Jr or Major Edmund Newell. Minnie died in childbirth in 1878. She is buried in Middleborough, Massachusetts. (What IS it with these ersatz military titles?)
Here is the first Tom Thumb Wedding photo I’ve seen NOT by Brady. This is by the Stereoscopic Company of London which despite its rather pedestrian and industrial name was in fact one of the premier photographic portrait parlors of its day. The Regent Street address if nothing else should be a clue to that.
I’m still trying to figure out who/what the monogram embossed into the verso of the card stands for – CWA? CAW? WAC? I also dig the American flag embossed as well – it appears to have only two rows of stars, which was probably as much artistic license taken trying to fit a readable symbol into the space as anything. I’m a little surprised at the need to mark the image as somehow American – the Thumbs were international superstars and virtually everyone would have known they were Yankees.