Yet another in my collection of circus freaks from the late 19th Century. In this scan of the card I’ve deliberately tweaked the scan of the back of the card to make the imprinting more readable. You’ve got to love the fact that their ages were left blank, to be penciled in, but their height and weight were printed. It makes me very suspicious of all three figures – Victorian-era circuses were known for intentionally over/under-stating data to make their particular freaks seem all the more extreme as a draw to customers. “Barnum’s fat man weighed 325 lbs! Ours weighs 450!” when in reality Barnum’s fat man was 275 and theirs just breaks 280. Ditto for giants – many of the circus giants were described as being somewhere between seven and eight feet, when in fact they were a bit north of 6’6″. It would have been hard for the average Victorian to gauge, as they often were paired on stage with little people, and the average height in 1870 was around five feet six inches, as opposed to five feet 10 today, so someone standing six feet nine would have looked even taller. Tom Thumb’s height bounced around in official descriptions of the time as well, frequently knocking three to six inches off his actual height (at his passing at age 45, he was 3 feet 4 inches tall).
Frank Wendt was the successor to Charles Eisenmann, taking over Eisenmann’s studio in 1893 upon his death, and running it in New York City until 1898, when he moved to New Jersey. Wendt is best known for photographing circus freaks, but he also worked with the general theatrical trade and more mainstream portrait customers as well. For more information about Wendt, check out Frank Wendt Photographs: The Wondrous World of Frank Wendt
Another addition to the collection of 19th century “freaks”. This one is totally anonymous – no label of who the subject is, or blind stamp on the verso from the photographer. But it’s clearly an original image from the overall quality – not a copy made from someone else’s CDV or stereo view, which makes it a little surprising to see. Oftentimes when photographers were stealing images of another photographer to reprint and sell, they would leave the back of the carte blank so if the copyright holder tried to track them down it would be much harder, and provide them with a degree of plausible deniability “I was merely selling these on consignment – I didn’t illegally copy them! And by the way, I don’t know who it was that sold me the copies…I think he said his name was Smith… yeah, that’s the ticket”. The subject looks familiar to me but I’m not sure – I bet he can be identified though. He’s quite handsome, bordering on just unusually short, and very well proportioned, unlike some of the circus freak little people performers of the day.
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:
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.
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.