Tom Thumb (Charles Sherwood Stratton), ca. 1848
Unknown Artist, American School
Daguerreotype; 3 1/4 x 2 3/4 in. (8.3 x 7 cm)
Gilman Collection, Purchase Howard Gilman Foundation and W. Bruce and Delaney H. Lundberg Gifts, 2007 (2008.14.1)
Tom Thumb was an international celebrity and among the most photographed and beloved performers of the nineteenth century. Discovered in Connecticut in 1842 by P. T. Barnum, the era's greatest showman, Charles Sherwood Stratton (1838–1883) weighed at the time fifteen pounds and was only twenty-five inches tall. Just four years old, he was dubbed by Barnum "General Tom Thumb" and promoted as an eleven-year-old marvel newly arrived from Europe. Barnum personally taught his soon-to-be most lucrative performer to sing and dance, practice comic banter, and impersonate such characters as Cupid and Napoleon Bonaparte. He stands here in this rare daguerreotype portrait on the seat of a posing chair and proudly wears around his neck the pocket watch and chain personally given to him in 1844 by Queen Victoria. In this intimate dress portrait, using the careful attention of the camera to help transform himself into the person he wished to be, Thumb appears confident and far more worldly than his ten years of age would suggest.