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?
I’ve been having the hardest time figuring out what these two gentlemen’s occupation is. They are wielding a trowel and a tin bucket, and staring into the bucket with a great degree of fascination. But they look too clean and too well-dressed for most manual labor occupations that would use a trowel and bucket – bakers, painters, plasterers, gardeners… when showing their profession, they’re usually a little less polished than these two. I’m going with plasterers as that’s a relatively high-earning trade, so maybe they could afford to get cleaned up before going in for their portraits.
I scanned this out of its octagonal Union case to make it easier to see the details. The case is in remarkably fine original condition, with no major cracks or chips.
The two men together could certainly in some people’s minds qualify this as a “gay interest” image, but I’m going to definitely disqualify this as it’s very obviously first and foremost a professional association. The dressing alike is a very 19th century thing within a trade, whereas dressing alike to show one’s sexual relationship to another is very much a late 20th early 21st century thing.
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.
Another addition to my collection – a pair of so-called pinheads who were part of the circus freak circuit in the United States during the 1870s. These two gentlemen are at the present time unknown to me. I’ll do some research and see if their identity can be determined. While I love collecting images of circus freaks (or even just anonymous vernacular images) from the famous photographers of the era, I think the obscure, little-known or unknown photographers in small American towns are just as cool if not cooler, because they truly represent a slice of American culture, largely vanished today. I like the unpolished-ness of the image – two men sitting on a bench of some sort, covered with a rug or blanket. The posing is straightforward and unsophisticated, yet it does have a certain aesthetic sensitivity that makes it appealing.
Pinheads suffer from Microcephaly – a genetically-influenced condition where their brain cavity does not grow at a normal rate and their head ends up being abnormally small. They usually suffer from mental retardation and may also have motor dysfunction and seizures. They were a popular sideshow attraction and often were portrayed as “the missing link” between man and ape, and in the case of Zip the Pinhead (perhaps the most famous pinhead of all, although it is debatable that he was a true microcephalic – he displayed normal or near-normal intelligence and did not suffer seizures or motor dysfunction), he would come out on stage in a cage like an animal and make shrieks and howls. Zip had a 67-year career in the circus and sideshow entertaining, dying in 1926 at or about the age of 80.
Here’s a cute photo of a teenage boy in a toreador suit, taken in Mexico City, August 20, 1949. The photographer’s stamp on the back of the print specifies the exact date, which is inordinately helpful. I just wish I could read his name, though – the script on the front AND the typeface used for his name on the back makes it impossible for me to decipher the exact spelling of his last name. Translation of the stamp:
A Photographer Whom You Can Recommend
Bolivar 57, Tel: 12.38.84
20 August 1949
I don’t know that this boy would actually have been a toreador – he could well have been playing dress-up for the camera. But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s legit. Google Mapping the studio address, in all likelihood this was a very posh studio in the center of Mexico City, not far from the historic district (I found THREE addresses with the same street number around the city, but the street views of the other two showed nothing that looked like commercial enterprise ever happening there). If anyone out there in cyberland knows who this photographer was, I’d greatly appreciate letting me know the exact spelling of his name and any biographical data about him. Ditto for the identity of the subject – if he was in fact a toreador, someone out there somewhere knows who he is.
I cropped out some of the card the image is mounted on because it would be wasting space on the screen to show nothing of value, and left enough to show the texture and pattern of the card decoration. It’s truly a vintage piece of the period. The stamp I converted to black and white so I could tweak the contrast in Photoshop and make it easier to read.
Aah- the wonders of google. I was trying to figure out the photographers name, and did some google searching, and came up with Carlos Ysunza as a name. Additionally, there is a currently practicing commercial photographer in Mexico City by that same name. I’ll email him and find out if he is the son of the Carlos who took this photo.
This appears to be a 1903 Winton touring car. In doing some image searching, I came across a photo of the 1903 Winton that was driven by Horatio Nelson Jackson that seems to be very similar, with the exception of this being a four seater and Jackson’s being a two-seater. Would that this were a photo of Jackson’s car before he set out on his famous cross-country drive. In 1903 it took him 64 days to cross the US, including numerous breakdowns and delays from having to winch the car out of mud holes and over rocky terrain. His trek proved it could be done. By 1919, when Dwight Eisenhower did it with a military convoy of heavy trucks, it had been reduced to 29 days (average speed less than 6mph, and including 6 days of rest with no travel attempted).
With the chauffeur in the front seat, I guess you could consider this an occupational photo. Regardless, an awesome piece of early automotive history. Note the license plate with the number 1211. Could you imagine driving from Washington DC to San Francisco, a distance of some 3000 miles, in a car like this?
Here’s another fun one – really quite bizarre, actually when you think about it. The sitter is posing with a corsage in one hand, a fishing rod in the other, wearing formal attire, standing next to a table with silver candlesticks, that looks like it might be an altar. In a photographers’ studio. Was he on vacation? A hobbyist fisherman? It’s certainly not an occupational because this is definitely a gentleman of leisure, not a working fisherman. And what’s with the corsage?
In keeping with my recent backmark/blind stamp post, I like this one a lot, as it tries to connect portrait photography with painting, or at least bridge the gap. There are quite a few in a similar vein, a definite response to the notion that photography was merely a mechanical, technical operation and not a true fine art.