Preternaturally Lovely: Britain’s Queen Alexandra of Denmark

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Albumen carte de visite (CDV) of future Queen Alexandra when Princess of Wales, taken at Sandringham in 1863. This image was marketed by the London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company, 54 Cheapside and 110 Regent Street. There is also a sticker on CDV’s reverse: “Juvenile Book Depot and Passport Agency, C. Goodman, bookseller and stationer, 407 Strand.” Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.
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Princess Alexandra Caroline Marie Charlotte Louise Julia of Denmark as a young woman, circa 1860. She was born 1 December, 1844, in the Yellow Palace in Copenhagen, the daughter of Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg (later King Christian IX of Denmark) and Princess Louise of Hesse-Kassel. Her upbringing was not extravagant and she remained close to her parents and siblings, even after marrying Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and taking up her new life in Great Britain. Library of Congress.
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September 1862: A group photograph to mark the engagement between the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra. Included are members of the Princess’s family including Prince Christian of Denmark, later King Christian IX; Princess Louise, later Queen of Denmark; Leopold, Duke of Brabant; Marie Henriette, Duchess of Brabant; and Princess Dagmar of Denmark. According to an 1879 issue of the magazine Harpers Bazaar, “A younger generation are fond of recalling the April morning when the young Princess of Wales reached England. The boat touched the shore, and the multitude crowding the quay saw a mere slip of a girl nervously clinging to the railing on the deck, and looking with a pale, pretty face at the new country, her dress plain almost to shabbiness, and her bonnet of so old-fashioned a make that a London milliner was hurriedly telegraphed to for a more lilting head-gear for the future queen’s entry into London. A wave of applause and cheers went up as the Prince of Wales embraced his betrothed and conducted her to the shores of her new home. The same day she was driven through London in great state, and a lady near enough socially to be good authority has told us of her pretty, girlish timidity when the crowd stared at her, with cheers and wild demonstrations of delight.” Courtesy Royal Collection.

Continue reading “Preternaturally Lovely: Britain’s Queen Alexandra of Denmark”

Remembering the Fairy Wedding

The wedding of Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren was so popular that children in wedding attire began to reenact the marriage ceremony.

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A carte de visite of the Thumb-Warren “Fairy Wedding” published by E. & H. T. Anthony, 1863. Original image by Mathew Brady.

By Beverly Wilgus

The highlight of the 1863 New York City social season was the February 10 “Fairy Wedding” at Grace Episcopal Church of two of P. T. Barnum’s “little people,” Charles Sherwood Stratton and Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump. In the theatrical world, they were known as General Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren—he stood 2’10”; she, 2’6″. There were 2,000 invited guests and Barnum also sold tickets to the reception after the wedding for $75 each. Although 15,000 ticket requests came in, only 5,000 were available. One newspaper, the Cleveland Daily Leader, noted that after the particulars were announced by Barnum, “then followed such a universal toadyism…all for the sake of begging, buying, or stealing invitations to the wedding.”

In spite of the event’s commercial nature, Tom and Lavinia’s marriage was a true love match. (Barnum, however, thought Lavinia was too tall for Tom and that her smaller sister Minnie would have been a better choice of a bride.) Lavinia had also been romantically pursued by Thumb’s rival performer, George Washington Morrison Nutt, whose stage name was Commodore Nutt, but Lavinia’s heart belonged to the Little General from the start. After their marriage, the couple lived in domestic harmony for twenty years until Tom’s death on July 15, 1883.

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A stereoview published by E. & H. T. Anthony of a reenactment of the “Fairy Wedding” in a photographer’s studio. Left to right: Best Man Commodore Nutt; Groom General Tom Thumb; Bride Lavinia Warren; and Bridesmaid Minnie Bump, Lavinia’s sister, who was also known as Minnie Warren. The minister behind them was either Reverend Mr. Wiley, who read the service, or the Reverend Dr. Taylor, who read the benediction, or possibly a costumed stand-in.

The Leader, which was only one of scores of newspapers around the world that covered Tom and Lavinia’s nuptials, explained to its readers, “Tom Thumb was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1838. He weighed nine pounds and a-half when born, but stopped growing at eighteen months old. Barnum took him in at ten years old and he has been a public character ever since. Miss Lavinia Bump was born in Middleboro, Mass., in 1842. She grew until one year old and then stopped… She and the General met a few months ago at Boston and a ‘mutual understanding’ developed.”

On the day of the wedding, the bride wore “plain white satin, the skirt en traine, being decorated with a flounce of costly point lace, headed by tulle puffings; the berthe to match. Her…hair, slightly waved, was rolled a la Eugenie…. Natural orange blossoms breathed their perfume above her brow and mingled their fragrance with soft sighs of her gentle bosom,” all-but moaned the Leader. Thumb was resplendent in a black dress coat and a vest of white silk, “his appearance that of a little old man in whom the juices of life were yet rich and whose jolly days were not done.”

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Another E. & H. T. Anthony stereoview of the “Fairy Wedding Party,” from an original by Mathew Brady. The Anthonys were advertising their exclusive arrangement to sell card photographs from the Fairy Wedding as early as February 25, 1863.

After the wedding, the couple greeted reception guests from atop a piano amidst a mountain of gifts. At the end of the evening, Thumb ardently and grandiloquently thanked their guests and he and his wife withdrew, shortly thereafter to begin a European honeymoon. From start to finish, stated the Irish Meath People and Cavan and Westmeath Chronicle, Barnum had arranged the Fairy Wedding “with a true eye to business.”

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A circa 1880 stereoview by J. W. & J. S. Moulton, New Series, American Groups, titled “Tom Thumb Wedding.”

Following the wild popularity of the wedding, a rather strange practice developed and has continued until today. Plays based on the event became popular, with children in wedding attire reenacting the marriage ceremony. My husband and I collect photographs of the original couple but also have a collection of photographs of children engaged in this activity from the 19th Century through 1950. The weddings were indeed so popular during the century after the actual event that there were professional Fairy Wedding planners who advised on the faux nuptials and rented out costumes.

Many Fairy Weddings were staged as fundraisers by churches and schools. For example, Pennsylvania’s Harrisburg Telegraph of November 30, 1888, noted that a Tom Thumb Wedding was held on Thanksgiving evening at Wesley Union Church. It included the mock bride and groom, maids of honor and groomsmen, and the bride and groom’s family. “The couples were appropriately and beautifully attired and of such costly material, fitting splendidly the little bodies and producing much excitement even among the men and women,” the newspaper stated. The children performed with “great propriety and dignity, and won high praise.”

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An early 20th Century, 5’x7′ card-mounted photograph taken on the steps of a church showing a large Tom Thumb wedding party and guests.

In 1893, the Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, Daily News, reported a Tom Thumb Wedding held at the G. A. R. Opera House on May 12. “The youthful participants enacted their parts well and the quaint costumes created no end of amusement for the audience.” And the North Carolina Wilmington Messenger of February 28, 1894, published that “all the little boys and girls who took part in the ‘Tom Thumb Wedding’ at the Grace Church entertainment last night are requested to meet at city hall this afternoon [in their costumes] to be photographed.”

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This real photo postcard, circa 1920, shows how long the mock weddings continued to take place as well as how to misspell thumb.
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A mounted, real photo postcard of a Fairy Wedding bride and groom taken during the second decade of the 20th Century.

We possess a clipping from 1950 of my husband, Jack, acting as best man in a Tom Thumb Wedding at his family’s church. And if the term “Tom Thumb Wedding” is entered into Google,  one will find many posts about churches, schools, and private birthday parties performing these weddings as late as just a few years ago. Ω

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All images courtesy of the Jack and Beverly Wilgus Collection.

Salt Life and Death

“In terms of symbolism, the loss of the soul is the same as that of the body, representing a crossing over to a place that we do not know or understand.”

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Nautical-themed memorial brooch to M. Thayer. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

This unusual mourning brooch, which dates to between 1830 and 1840, is a late example of the sepia painting technique popular up to a century earlier. Sepia miniatures in the neoclassical style, such as the one below right, were painted with dissolved human hair on ivory tablets and typically feature weeping women and willows, funeral urns, graves, and other scenes and symbols of loss.

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This gold brooch in a navette shape, circa 1790, features a sepia painting of a grieving widow with the bust of her husband. Courtesy C.J. Antiques.

This brooch is dedicated by reverse inscription to “M. Thayer,” but little more can be known about the deceased, as the inscription includes no dates of birth or death. Thayer was likely occupationally connected to the sea, although the image may be wholly allegorical. A ship sailing toward a distant safe haven, accompanied or guided by birds, may be read as the soul journeying toward the afterlife in the company of angelic beings.

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Kissing Cousins?

“Almost certainly a wedding portrait, this is a reasonably well-to-do couple, since they are dressed in formal day wear.”

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Unknown couple, 6th-plate daguerreotype, circa 1854. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

This is another of my daguerreotypes, formerly of the Ralph Bova collection, which was published in Joan Severa’s My Likeness Taken. Severa wrote of the image: “Almost certainly a wedding portrait, this is a reasonably well-to-do couple, since they are dressed in formal day wear.

“The wife has done her hair in the bandeau style, in the longer, deeper roll that was one of the choices at mid-decade. Her hairdo is finished with ribbon ends hanging from a bow at the back of the crown. She wears what is probably a black velvet bodice over a black silk shirt. The fine whitework collar is large, and the white undersleeve cuffs are deeply frilled. The unusually wide silk ribbon is an expensive luxury; it flares prettily from the folds under the collar to spread over the bosom. A gold chain for a pencil hangs at the waistline.

“The young man wears a morning suit: a cutaway coat over striped trousers. His black vest matches the coat, and the high, standing collar of his starched shirt is held by a wide, horizontal necktie.”

When I first uploaded this image to my photostream at Flickr, a number of commentors suggested the sitters were siblings rather than man and wife. I agree there is a definite resemblance. Severna felt strongly that this image had the hallmarks of a wedding photograph and I also agree with her assessment. The two positions may be reconciled if the subjects are married cousins—a common occurrence until the second half of the 20th Century. Ω