Sunday, August 16, 2015

Fee Gee Fiji Mermaid Prop, a Classic Gaff of the Victorian Era

The other day I was doing a little reading online about classic sideshow exhibits and gaffs, the most celebrated of the genre is the Fee Gee Mermaid of P. T. Barnum+ fame from the 1840s.  Over the years the Fiji Mermaid idea resurfaced in traveling museums, curio shops, carnival sideshows, roadside attractions, and at auctions.   Most of the gaffs were composed of fish parts and other taxidermy items cobbled together to make a mermaid for the rubes to gawk for a dime a shot.  I won’t go into the history of the Fee Gee Mermaid as the links in this post pretty much walk you through the background of these interesting biological fantasies.


So anyway, I stumbled upon a really interesting site called the Taxidermy Emporium, which is based in the UK.  It has some of the most interesting dead things I have seen for sale outside of a Victorian curiosity shop.  The photos of the objects in question, in this case was a Fiji Mermaid gaff, which was worthy of a blog post.
A Fiji Mermaid gaff at Taxidermy Emporium   Ref PI 1040  Sold

Another Fiji mermaid from the same source     Ref PI 902  Sold

Sea Pixie from Taxidermy Emporium     Ref PI 912

Before you get too excited about purchasing items from the Taxidermy Emporium my American readers, many of the offerings at this site are absolutely illegal to import into the USA as most of them are of endangered species.  Well possibly excluding the Fee Gee Mermaid gaffs, but there is no telling of what material those items are made.  There are stringent import laws about the importation of objects made from endangered species, far more than the expected aquatic mammal and elephant ivory items, we generally hear about in news articles.
This classic gaff and variations has been posted a number of times by well-known prop expert on his site Propnomicon, see below.  Propnomicon has covered the prop scene for a number of years now and features a number of tutorials on how to make props.  The fan community owes a big debt of gratitude to Propnomicon for his daily posts about props and prop making over the years.
The only other gaff that tickles me more than the Fee Gee Mermaid is the classic roadside attraction, The Thing, but that’s another story*.  I hope this post has been of interest and will stimulate the reader into looking more deeply into historical gaffs and props of the 19th century. 


Not all of the items at the Taxidermy Emporium are for everybody as seen below.
These are called, “Well preserved British Bulldog puppies – Natural death”     Ref – PI 984   sold

    *Well also jackalopes too.  The history of the true origin of the jackalope.

    +P. T. Barnum actually didn’t say, ‘There’s a sucker bornevery minute” it has been attributed to David Hanum a competitor in the trade, who was commenting on Barnum making his own copy of the Cardiff Giant – a fake of a fake.  The real joke is that Barnum’s fake made more money than the original fake.  Now that’s ballyhoo.  

Links of Interest
A number of Propnomicon Fee Gee Mermaid posts:

A large collection of Fiji Mermaid images and memorabilia, well worth the view

More background on Mermaid

Monkey headed Fiji Mermaid gaff