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 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 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.
A newly arrived pair of circus midgets – Admiral Dot and General Cardenas. The Admiral Dot image is not in the best of condition, but it’s a different photo than the one I already have, and for some reason there are certain little people images that are much more expensive than others – Admiral Dot and Che Mah the Chinese Dwarf being two among them. I have yet to find a Che Mah in a condition I’d like to have it in for less than $150, and I’ve been outbid twice now on nice ones. Dudly Foster is another one that seems to command high prices for some reason.
Admiral Dot, was born Leopold Kahn in 1857(?). He was uncle of Samuel Kahn, “Major Atom”. In 1870, Phineas Taylor Barnum traveled with friends by train across the western United States. In San Francisco, a German named Gabriel Kahn offered the showman his dwarf son, Leopold. Barnum was quite taken with the little fellow, whom he said was “a dwarf more diminutive in stature than General Tom Thumb was when I found him.” Barnum promptly signed up Leopold under the new name of Admiral Dot, otherwise known as the the El Dorado Elf because he was such “a valuable nugget”.
As early as 1872, Barnum had already coined the phrase “The Greatest Show on Earth”, and now referrred to his circus as “P. T. Barnum’s Great Traveling World’s Fair”. At the time, Admiral Dot was touted as being sixteen years old, twenty-five inches tall, and a mere nineteen pounds. At least initially, Dot appeared on stage with his mother.
Admiral Dot’s career lasted for approximately the next twenty years, despite the fact that as he aged and grew taller he was soon eclipsed in size by smaller performers such as Major Atom, with whom he occasionally performed. Not one to rest on his laurels, Dot developed a stage persona that at one time saw him billed as “The Smallest Character Actor in the World”. During the 1880’s, Dot traveled with the Locke & Davis Royal Lilliputian Opera Company, which was populated by other famous little people such as the Magri Brothers and and Colonel Speck.
By the turn of the century, Leopold Kahn had settled in White Plains, New York, with his twenty-six-inch-tall wife Lottie Swartwood (a fellow performer in the opera company) and their two normal-sized children. Seeking respectability, Dot joined the Elks, sang with the town choir, and opened the Admiral Dot Hotel. The citizens of White Plains named the admiral honorary chief of the fire department, but unkindly referred to his business establishment as the Hotel Pee Wee (which, ironically, burned to the ground in 1911). Admiral Dot died of influenza in his home in White Plains on 28 October 1918, aged 54 years.
I couldn’t find any biographical references for General Cardenas – for all I know even the last name is fake and he was a Swede from Minneapolis and not hispanic at all. I’ll keep digging and see if I can find more about him. I did find a different photo of him on the Syracuse University online image library that looks like it was taken at the same time because his outfit is identical and the chair next to him appears the same, but its set in a faux-outdoors scene with a bunch of tufted grass around the chair.
I’ll include some of my other little people with faux-military titles for reference, starting with Major Atom.
My latest CDV of a circus sideshow midget. What was it with the circus and fake military ranks or titles? Major Houghton, Admiral Dot, Major Atom (although there’s a wee (pardon the pun) bit of irony in that one), Commodore Nutt, General Tom Thumb, Baron Littlefinger and Count Rosebud and just to name a few. Even when folks weren’t given fake titles, they often got dressed up in military-esque uniforms, like my photo of Landon Middlecoff, or some of the other giants I’ve seen.
I’ve been fascinated by the Tom Thumb “Fairy Wedding” photos since I found the first one. Now that I’ve discovered that there were multiple poses sold, I’m building a collection of them, trying to see if I can find them all. So far, I have four Brady images from the wedding, an unsigned image of Commodore Nutt and what appears to be a regular girl child without back-stamp, and another Brady image of Tom Thumb, his wife, Commodore Nutt and what I’m guessing is a circus giant (he appears to be twice the size of Charles Stratton – Tom Thumb – who was 3 feet 4 inches tall at his death, making the giant next to him in the neighborhood of 7 feet tall).
Here for your viewing pleasure are three random CDVs. The first one I don’t have a lot to say about because the sitter is unknown. The photographer is William Shew, who began his photographic career on the East Coast, then moved out to San Francisco in 1851 to capitalize on the gold rush. He began his career as a Daguerreotypist, and his first studios in San Francisco were a mobile wagon parked in the plaza at Kearny between Clay and Washington streets – now Chinatown (which I hope to photograph the location as it appears today while I’m out in San Francisco on vacation). He was one of only three photographers in San Francisco at the time.
The next pair of images come from the mid-19th century cult of celebrity. Although both cards are not marked as to their photographer, there is a good probability that they were taken by the Brady studio, which was known for such subjects, and both had been photographed on other occasions by Brady. The first is Henry Ward Beecher, the prominent preacher and abolitionist and brother to Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and according to Abraham Lincoln, “this little lady whose book started this great big war”.
This one may NOT be Brady’s, because the set is so plain – even the hat stand/support prop is rather simple for Brady’s studio, and oftentimes public figures of Beecher’s status would be invited to sit for their pictures whenever they visited a new town. These cards were the sports trading cards/Tiger Beat posters of their day, and people would collect them in albums to show off when friends came to visit.
The last image is another of Commodore Nutt and a woman who is unidentified, but another little person. It MAY be Minnie Warren, sister of Lavinia Warren, ex-sweetheart of Commodore Nutt who went on to marry General Tom Thumb in the Fairy Wedding (see previous post), but she appears smaller of stature than Minnie. It is also NOT the Commodore’s wife, who while below average height, was not a dwarf. Again, an anonymous image, but very much in the same vein. It may be possible to identify the photographer from the backdrop of the image. The custom backdrops like this were often like fingerprints or signatures for individual photographers’ work – the painted backdrops were often custom-made and very expensive, so they show up over and over again.
Note the feet of the posing clamp stand showing from behind the girl/woman. I love finding images that show the stand – it’s a bit of a reminder how the image was made. These would all have been shot in daylight studios on wet plate collodion negatives, which meant that the subjects still had multi-second exposures to hold still for.
Ok, I’ve been waiting for a while to get this one. I originally saw a listing with a copy of this image on Ebay for somewhat north of $300. I debated and debated whether to get it or not. After much consideration, I passed on it, thinking that the signatures on the back were most likely facsimiles, and not original signatures. Patience paid off – another copy (the one I bought) showed up. While not quite as nice a condition, it actually looks much better in person than it does in the scans. My copy had the added benefit of being less than a quarter of the current asking price of the other copy I passed on.
For those not familiar with the subject matter, Charles Stratton, AKA General Tom Thumb, was a star of the P.T. Barnum sideshow and performer from the 1840s to the late 1870s. He was born a relatively large, healthy baby but stopped growing significantly before his second birthday. At his tallest he was 3 feet 4 inches. In 1863, he married another dwarf, Lavinia Warren. His best man was George W.M. Nutt, a fellow dwarf and performer in Barnum’s circus, and Lavinia’s bridesmaid was her younger sister, Minnie, also a dwarf. The event was dubbed “The Fairy Wedding” and was the social event of the year. Two thousand guests packed Grace Episcopal Church in Manhattan. After the wedding, Charles and Lavinia went to Washington where they were received by President Lincoln. Charles, Lavinia, George and Minnie posed for Matthew Brady who went on to sell CDVs of the photo as souvenirs of the wedding through his publisher, E. & H.T. Anthony. This is one of the E. & H.T. Anthony productions.