From the Small to the Tall

Three recent acquisitions, after a long hiatus from collecting. All in the circus freak genre. The first is my second image of General Cardenas, a famous little person and contemporary of Tom Thumb.


This next image is of Martin Van Buren Bates, a famous giant. Very much like with little people, the Victorians were quite fond of attaching fake military titles to giants and dressing them up in uniforms. I can’t tell if the signature on the verso is Van Buren’s or if it is someone else’s later notation.┬áThis is most likely a rip-off of another photographer’s image, bought on the east coast and reproduced without credit. This was an incredibly huge problem in the Victorian era, when it was very easy to sell copies elsewhere in the country without ever coming to the knowledge of the original photographer.

IF the signature is indeed Van Buren Bates’, then it could be that he owned the negative and had new copies printed from town to town as he toured. I don’t know if there are any known copies of his autograph extant to compare it to. The flourish of the last letter is the only thing that makes me think this might be an actual signature – in the vast majority of the CDVs I’ve bought where names were hand-annotated on the verso, the writing was quite plain, and sometimes even in block printed letters, not script.


James Murphy, the Giant Boy. 8 feet tall, 18 years old. Looking at the overall stature of the man beside him in the photo, In reality he was 7 feet 3 1/2 inches. Also billed as The Irish Giant and the Baltimore Giant, he toured with PT Barnum’s circus. He lived from 1842 to 1875. This photo is dated 1863.