An ambitious entrepreneur and genius marketer, P. T. Barnum (1810-1891) brilliantly exploited the public’s imagination and credulity for more than fifty years. He made his name in the 1840s with the 'discovery' of Charles Sherwood Stratton, alias General Tom Thumb, and the opening of Barnum’s American Museum in New York. Today, Barnum is perhaps best remembered for the last chapter of his life when he turned a three-ring circus into the legendary Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth.
From September 1850 to June 1851, Barnum sponsored the American tour of Jenny Lind, ‘The Swedish Nightingale,’ paying her an unprecedented $150,000 for a projected tour of 150 concerts. All but unknown in America prior to her arrival though renowned in Europe, Barnum’s carefully-executed campaign made Lind the most celebrated woman of her time, mobbed by thousands at every stop on her tour and selling more than $700,000 in tickets.
The photograph offered here was made at the height of ‘Lindomania’ when Barnum and Lind were in Cincinnati between 14 and 22 April 1851. It is attributed to Thomas Faris, one of the earliest artists to introduce the daguerreotype to Ohio and 'for many years, the leading daguerreotypist in Cincinnati' (Marcus A. Root, The Camera and the Pencil, Or, The Heliographic Art: Its Theory and Practice Root, 1864, p. 360). This photograph was made in Faris’s second floor gallery in The Melodeon building, then one of the most prominent buildings in the Queen City. The Melodeon, located at the northwest corner of Fourth and Walnut Streets, was just steps away from Burnett House, where Barnum and Lind lodged, and from the grand National Theater, where Lind gave her 5 performances in April 1851. Both Barnum and Lind sat for Faris, and her portraits from that sitting are now in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG.95.406) and the Cincinnati Art Museum (1981.181).
Although Barnum thoroughly embraced photography throughout his career, surviving portraits are rare. He is primarily known through paper copy prints in carte-de-visite and other formats or through reproductions. Early images of the showman include the frontispiece illustration for The Life of P. T. Barnum (1854), an engraving by E. Teel after a daguerreotype by Root; and a later cabinet card by James Landy after an anonymous 1851 daguerreotype. In the aforementioned images, Barnum wears the same tie tack as is visible in the present plate.
As Barnum is known almost exclusively through images in which he appears clean-shaven, the Faris daguerreotype is particularly fascinating. The present daguerreotype is only the second known portrait of Barnum with a beard; the other, a charming 1860s carte-de-visite of Barnum holding one of his grandchildren, is in the collection of The Barnum Museum, Bridgeport, Connecticut.
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