An Extraordinary Rare Memento From One of P.T. Barnum’s Most Successful Events, the “National Baby Show”

An elaborately engraved Diploma from this popular show in 1862, signed by Barnum

Purchase $2,500

A search of public sale records going back 40 years fails to turn up another example, nor have we seen one

P.T. Barnum was the greatest showman on earth. He more than any other person created the concept of popular entertainment and developed to a virtual science methods of satisfying the public....

Read More

An Extraordinary Rare Memento From One of P.T. Barnum’s Most Successful Events, the “National Baby Show”

An elaborately engraved Diploma from this popular show in 1862, signed by Barnum

A search of public sale records going back 40 years fails to turn up another example, nor have we seen one

P.T. Barnum was the greatest showman on earth. He more than any other person created the concept of popular entertainment and developed to a virtual science methods of satisfying the public. In 1841 he opened his American Museum in New York, and it was a major attraction until the end of the Civil War. In addition to the strange and sometimes educational attractions, he offered performances. In 1850, he brought Jenny Lind – the famed Swedish Nightingale – to America, and she gave 93 large-scale concerts for him.

But the American Museum appealed mainly to a working-class crowd during the 1840s, and by the 1850s Barnum was working aggressively to attract a more respectable middle-class audience, including women, to the Museum. His answer: he instituted his “National Baby Show”, which proved to be one of the American Museum’s most popular competitions. The first baby show in June 1855 attracted more than 60,000 patrons eager to view the 143 contestants who were to be judged “especially on the crowning merit of their being genuine original American stock”. Following up on his success in New York, Barnum quickly staged baby shows in Boston, Albany, Cincinnati, and Baltimore. Barnum advertised that $12,000 was to be given to the Finest Babies, and the show was a hit everywhere.

No sooner had the National Barnum’s Baby Show closed at Barnum’s American Museum in New York in 1862 than he took it to Boston, where it opened at Barnum’s Aquarial Gardens on July 14. Barnum placed advertisements in many of the most popular newspapers of the day, sometimes highlighting a specific exhibit. He ran large, sometimes full column, ads to promoted these baby shows. The ad he ran to advertise the 1862 Boston show read: “Barnum’s Aquarial Gardens, P.T. Barnum, Manager. Every Day and Evening This Week. Commencing Monday, July 14, 1862. Grand National Barnum’s Baby Show. 100 Beautiful Babies! will be on exhibition, for which upwards of $1800 cash will be distributed for the Finest Babies! Twins! Triplets! and Fat Babies!…The finest display of Human Rose Buds ever beheld.” In addition to the baby show, there were also at the Aquarial Gardens the usual range of Barnum performers, such as an infant orator, a celebrated albino family, and a white whale.

Those who did not finish in the money but were runners-up were given elegantly engraved Diplomas to take home. For the Boston 1862 show, the Diploma showed, at top, Jesus with the little children, and a legend saying, “Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” There were also scenes from the Old Testament, one of which was Moses in the bullrushes. The date 1862 was at the bottom. We offer one of these Diplomas, made out to Elmer Ellsworth Abbott, born in Boston October 2, 1861, and named after the first Union officer killed in the Civil War. Baby Abbott would have been nine months old when he participated in the 1862 Boston competition. Ellsworth died in 1938, aged 77.

The survival of this wonderful, ephemeral document is quite extraordinary. A search of public sale records going back 40 years fails to turn up another example, nor have we ever seen one.

Purchase Now $2,500

Frame, Display, Preserve

Each frame is custom constructed, using only proper museum archival materials. This includes:The finest frames, tailored to match the document you have chosen. These can period style, antiqued, gilded, wood, etc. Fabric mats, including silk and satin, as well as museum mat board with hand painted bevels. Attachment of the document to the matting to ensure its protection. This "hinging" is done according to archival standards. Protective "glass," or Tru Vue Optium Acrylic glazing, which is shatter resistant, 99% UV protective, and anti-reflective. You benefit from our decades of experience in designing and creating beautiful, compelling, and protective framed historical documents.

Learn more about our Framing Services