Well folks, I think it’s time and appropriate that I spin off my blogging about image collecting from my blogging about my own photographic endeavors. I want to differentiate the two activities and use this blog, dcphotoartist.com, as a professional communication channel to talk about and share my portrait work and travel images. So I hope you all will bear with me as I make the transition, and read up on both blogs. The new blog will be http://dcphotocollector.com. I’m using the theme photo of this post as the branding for the collecting site, at least for now. I’m launching it with another post about Tom Thumb and his wife.
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.
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’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).
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.
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.
Here is another CDV for your consideration, in rather poorer condition than I normally like to buy, but I hadn’t seen this one before. This is Admiral Dot and his wife, Lottie Swartwood. I’ve inverted the image of the verso so you can at least try to make out the handwriting. From what I can read, it says, “…height 33… age 36…weight 36” (the ellipsis are where I can’t make out for sure what it says).
If you’ve been following my blog you know that Chas Eisenmann was quite the celebrity photographer specializing in people of the theater, which included the circus and vaudeville. I suppose photographing the Dots would have been a way to compete with Mathew Brady and the Anthonys, who had the Tom Thumb wedding photos in their portfolio.
Here’s another Tom Thumb, this time by C.D. Fredricks. Proof positive that even when at home in New York, Tom Thumb was photographer agnostic, but still selective – if not posing for Brady, he was still going to the best names in town to get his photos done.
Here’s a photo of Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren, NOT by Mathew Brady, Gurney & Sons, Eisenmann or C.D. Fredericks. I’ve seen a few by the other photographers, but the Brady ones are the most common. This is cool to me as it shows them being photographed in other cities as they toured – celebrity culture is not a new thing, but at least back in that day, technology largely excluded the possibility of ambush paparazzi.
Funny story about that though – back when the White House did not have a secure perimeter with heavily armed guards, one of Abraham Lincoln’s boys was out playing in the yard. An enterprising and rather self-assured photographer approached the boy and talked him in to sitting for some pictures, and then sent him inside to get his dad to pay. Needless to say, Mr. Lincoln was NOT happy about this, and came out to confront the photographer. The photographer consented to not charge Mr. Lincoln if he would sit for a few himself, which he grudgingly did. Try doing that to the first family today!