For those suckers born in the last few minutes

   Posted by: rring   in Uncategorized

The fact that 2010 is the 200thanniversary of P. T. Barnum’s birth just crossed my desktop, so I thought a glance into the stacks to see what we have would be interesting.  Barnum was born in Bethel, CT on July 5, 1810 to Philo F. Barnum, a merchant farmer who apparently descended from one of the eight original proprietors who established Danbury in 1685.  His mother was Irena Taylor, daughter of Revolutionary War veteran Phineas Taylor.  After a few false starts as a clerk and a newspaper owner, Barnum essentially moved to New York in 1835 and started shucking & jiving, beginning with purchasing the services of Joice Heth, purportedly the 161-year-old ex-nurse of George Washington, for $1,000, and making $750 a week by charging admission to hear her spin tales of our first president for a year until she died.  Schemes like the American Museum and his various traveling shows (including The Greatest Show on Earth) generated tremendous crowds and fans, and had an enormous impact on American popular culture.

The Watkinson has a nice handful of sources, including the second edition of Barnum’s autobiography, entitled Struggles and Triumphs: Or, Forty Years’ Recollections (1869)–from which the portrait of Barnum shown here was scanned.


“Without printer’s ink,” Barnum once said at a banquet in his honor, “I should have been no bigger than Tom Thumb.”  We have a copy of his Humbugs of the World (1866),which includes some of his theories about the effective use of publicity.  Barnum defined a “humbug” as “putting on glittering appearances–outside show–novel expedients, by which to suddenly arrest public attention and attract the public eye and ear.”  I include here a page from the table of contents.











“The Art of Money-Getting, or Success in Life” was first delivered as a lecture to an audience of over 2,000 in London on December 29, 1858, and in the London Times review of it the next day, its organization was likened to Cicero’s De Officiis.  On our shelves we have an edition of this printed in 1882.






The final nugget is, according to biographer A. H. Saxon, “an anonymous burlesque” by one of Barnum’s journalist friends, entitled The Autobiography of Petit Bunkum, the Showman, published in 1855–the beginning of which is shown here.


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