American photographer Mathew Brady (1822 – 1896) is best known for his portraits of celebrities and his documentation of the American Civil War. During the war Brady organized a group of photographers to document the Civil War, creating over 10,000 plates. He is now credited with being the father of photojournalism, showing Americans for the first time the harsh reality of war. Across from Brady’s portrait studio on Broadway in New York City stood Phineas T. Barnum’s American Museum which was one of the most popular attractions of its time with 15,000 visitors a day. The colossal museum held a wild collection of educated dogs, ventriloquists, jugglers, fat men, giants, midgets, rope dancers, albinos, cannibals, wax figures, pantomime acts, and whales held in immense tanks.
Many of Barnum’s “freaks” went to Brady’s studio to be photographed. In these three formal portraits bodies are steadied by an iron brace required by long exposure times. In P.T. Barnum and Ernestine de Faiber, Barnum poses inside a Punch-and-Judy stage. There he admires the beautiful French dancer, Ernestine de Faiber, as she stands frozen in the middle of a pirouette. It was later rumored that Ernestine bore Barnum’s illegitimate child. Barnum toured 7-year old midget Thom Thumb through Europe where he became a popular attraction and the darling of fashionable societies famous for his wit and disregard for decorum. Once retired, he married Lavinia Warren Bumpus in a ceremony in New York’s Grace Church pictured here on that day. In Anna Swan and the Lilliputian King, stands a woman 7’11” woman holding up her 17-pound friend on the palm of her hand. Born in Canada in 1846, the Nova Scotia Giantess was on display at the American Museum as the only female giant in the world at the time. Swan later married Kentucky giant Martin Van Bates and they toured abroad as the world’s largest couple.
These high quality photographs were contact printed in a limited edition from Brady’s negatives held in the Meserve Collection.
1860 (printed 1977) by Time Life Books Nine toned silver prints from original glass negatives in custom folio. Edition of 5,000. Matthew Brady glass negative circus prints —This is a contact print from the original negative from the 1977 Time Life Series portfolio titled "The world of Phineas T. Barnum" of the Barnum and baily circus fame. Famed photgrapher Matthew Brady and Burnam got together and took these photographs in the early 1860’s – Only 500 sets of this portfolio were made.
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution