Freakish Bidding

22nd January 2015

As featured in the ATG - issue 2175 January 2015

This late 19th century ‘natural history’ specimen purports to be the mummified body of a creature that was half mammal and half fish. It unites a papier-mâché monkey head with glass eyes, a pair of birdlegs and talons and the taxidermy body of a fish. It measured 2ft 3in (67cm) long. Traditionally these were made by Japanese and East Indies fishermen, although they caused asensation when first seen by Westerners – the American sea captain Samuel Barrett Eades selling his boat to pay $6000 for the example he was shown by Dutch merchants in 1810. First displayed inLondon in 1822, this became the famous ‘Feejee Mermaid’ when later exhibited by master showman P. T. Barnum in New York in 1842. The whereabouts of the original mermaid is disputed (it mayhave been destroyed in a fire in the 1860s), but similar creations became relatively commonplace at Victorian side shows and freak shows. This example, consigned by a south coast vendor, was among the most eagerly contested lots at Woolley & Wallis’ furniture and works of art sale in Salisbury on January 8th.  It received commission bids up to £3500, with the successful internet bidder securing it for £5,120.

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