1863 P. T. Barnum American Museum Large Format Albumen Card Mount Photo Circus
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1863 P. T. Barnum American Museum Large Format Albumen Card Mount Photo Circus:
Exceptionally rare and fascinating, original, ca1863, very large format Albumen Photograph looking down Broadway in New York City and including one of a handful (or less) of known photographs of P.T. Barnum's American Museum!!!
This outstanding and exceptionally rare Photograph measures approx. 8” by 10” and is mounted on its original, square corner, light weight photographer’s card mount (overall size of the card mount is 10 1/2” by 13 1/4”). The photograph is not identified in any way but the presence of Barnum's American Museum and its position on the street tell us that the image was taken from just above Ann Street looking down Broadway toward the tip of Manhattan. The Photograph carries the mark of the photographers - Esinghaus & Swift - in the negative at the lower right hand corner. Although the Photo is not dated we know that it was taken sometime between 1859 (the advent of the widespread use of albumen paper photography) and July 13, 1865 (when the Museum burned to the ground).
The "Great White Way" stretches off into the distance and a number of hansom cabs / carriages are seen parked on both sides of the street. To the right we see the Western Transportation Company with a number of trade sign both on the building and on the street along with the entrance to the Astor Hotel with a number of carriages waiting there for fares. It is on the left, however, at the south-east corner of Broadway and Ann Street that we see the building which makes this such an extraordinary view - the sprawling 5 story building housing Barnum's American Museum. The central area of the Photo is, unfortunately, faded but the sign over the second story at the corner reads "Barnum's" and other smaller signs can be seen over the first floor of the building. With just a bit of enhancement some of the numerous paintings, banners and decorations that adorned the outside walls of the Museum can be seen depicting exotic animals and attractions found inside. There appears to be a large crowd gathered at the Broadway entrance to the American Museum waiting to part with the quarter that wound grant them access to Barnum's World of Wonders.
Barnum's American Museum was located at the corner of Broadway and Ann Street in New York City, from 1841 to 1865. The museum was owned by famous showman P.T. Barnum and his partner and original owner, John Scudder. Prior to their partnership, the museum was known as Scudder's American Museum. The museum offered both strange and educational attractions. It burned to the ground in 1865.
We are unsure, exactly, why so few photographs of Barnum's American Museum exist today. It was certainly one of the most popular attractions in the City of New York until its demise in 1865. Certainly the elaborately decorated facades would have been a natural attraction for photographers but for some reason there are VERY few photographs of the Museum. The Photo offered here is likely the largest image of this showplace and it is unfortunate that the building is shrouded in a "mist" either from fading of the Image or a remnant of the lighting conditions when the Photograph was taken (most likely a combination of both).
In 1841 Barnum bought Scudder’s American Museum located across from St. Paul’s on the southeast corner of Broadway and Ann Street. He transformed the five-story exterior into a giant, gaudy advertisement for itself, with painted animals, illuminated panels, banners and Flags, then lit it all up with limelight, a recent invention. He hired the worst musicians he could find to play on a balcony above the entrance, on the theory that their terrible noise would drive customers inside.
Barnum opened his museum on January 1, 1842 to create a place where families could go for wholesome, affordable entertainment, but his success drew from the fact that he knew how to entice an audience. Its attractions made it a combination zoo, museum, lecture hall, wax museum, theater and freak show, that was, at the same time, a central site in the development of American popular culture. Barnum filled the American Museum with dioramas, panoramas, “cosmoramas,” scientific instruments, modern appliances, a flea circus, a loom run by a dog, the trunk of a tree under which Jesus’ disciples sat, an oyster bar, a rifle range, waxworks, glass blowers, taxidermists, phrenologists, pretty-baby contests, Ned the learned seal, the Feejee Mermaid (a mummified monkey’s torso with a fish’s tail), midgets, Chang and Eng the Siamese twins, a menagerie of exotic animals that included beluga whales in an aquarium, giants, Grizzly Adams’s trained bears and performances ranging from magicians, ventriloquists and blackface minstrels to adaptations of biblical tales and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
At its peak, the museum was open fifteen hours a day and had as many as 15,000 visitors a day. Some 38 million customers paid the 25 cents admission to attend the museum between 1841 and 1865. The total population of the United States in 1860 was under 32 million. On July 13, 1865, the American Museum burned to the ground in one of the most spectacular fires New York has ever seen. Animals at the museum were seen jumping from the burning building, only to be shot by police officers.
This exceptionally rare and original ca1863, large format, Card Mount Albumen Photo is in good to very good condition. The Photo itself has a very light, vertical stain through the center of the image and, as stated above, the central portion of the image is light - either from fading over time or the lighting conditions at the time the Photo was taken (most likely a combination of both). Otherwise both the Photo and the card mount are clean and well preserved with no foxing or soiling but with a few tiny hold and a small bend at the lower right hand corner of the card mount (not affecting the Photo itself).
An exceptionally rare and fascinating, original, ca1863, very large format Albumen Photograph looking down Broadway in New York City and including one of a handful (or less) of known photographs of P.T. Barnum's American Museum War and a fantastic addition to any collection!!
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