Charles Sherwood Stratton (AKA General Tom Thumb) and His Circle

This page added 12/2005 - Visit a page of photographs of other "Special People" in our collection.

* Note: The information presented here comes from a variety of sources, some written on the photographs and some from reading numerous books and web sites. It is offered with no guarantee of authenticity

The best known of Barnum's performers was Charles Sherwood Stratton, AKA General Tom Thumb. Barnum discovered the diminutive star as a four year old in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1842. As General Tom Thumb he performed and toured the world until his death in 1883 at 46.

In the hand colored stereo card below "the General" is saluted by an English soldier.The card is undated but Tom appears to be younger in this image than in most of the other photographs in our collection. The card gives his age as 20 but Barnum made a practice of exaggerating his age. When he first toured at 5 years old his age was given as 11. Tom appeared in England several times and had a number of visits with Queen Victoria who was enchanted by the little man.

Tom Thumb


Tom Thumb

The Fairy Wedding

On February 10, 1863 Tom Thumb married Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump, AKA Lavinia Warren. We have a number of Mathew Brady photographs of their wedding party in carte-de-visit and stereo format. The "Fairy Wedding" was a social event of the season at New York City's Grace Church. The 2,000 guests were by invitation only. Barnum sold tickets to the reception after the wedding for $75 each. 15,000 were requested but only 5,000 were issued.

Below are two stereo cards from Brady's studio that show a reenactment of the wedding before a painted backdrop and the bride and groom with their attendants. On the left in each picture is the best man, George Washington Morrison Nutt, known as Commodore Nutt; Tom Thumb; Lavinia, and Minnie Bump AKA Minnie Warren, her younger sister and bride's maid. Was the minister really Rev. Dr. Taylor of Christ Church or a stand-in?

Tom Thumb Wedding

Tom Thumb Wedding

Tom Thumb Wedding The back of the carte-de-visite above, and many of the other cards that Anthony produced from Brady's negatives, carry facsimile signatures of the wedding pair and the members of the party. It is wise to look closely at any cards described with a breathless, "signature of Charles and Lavinia Stratton" since all the "signatures" we have seen are exact duplicates.

A cultural footnote to the famous wedding is the rather strange practice of dressing children in wedding attire to reenact the "Tom Thumb Wedding" as seen in this 19th century stereo card by J.W. & J.S. Moulton. There is a picture of Jack as a child in a Tom Thumb Wedding party. The practice continues to the present.

Also well know are the photographs and stereo views of the pretend Thumb's baby. Of course it was a real baby but not really the Thumb's baby. Over the years the Thumbs "borrowed" babies, replacing them as they grew larger than the "parents". Charles and Lavinia had no children.

Tom Thumb baby

A small object can speak volumes about its time. The little brass photo album on the right is one of our treasures. It is a stamped with the title "Somebody's Luggage". The little case with its embossed straps and scroll decoration is only 7/8 of an inch tall. When the clasp is opened an accordion pleat of five little oval frames is released. On each side oval mats hold 10 tiny albumen prints of Tom Thumb, Lavinia, Minnie, Nutt, and other of Barnum's little people.We have seen two other examples of the locket on the internet and had communication with two collectors who have one. All we have read or heard about contain small prints of the Brady images of the wedding and baby.

It seems likely that the title "Somebody's Luggage" comes from a story by Charles Dickens published in 1862 shortly before the famous wedding.

Somebody's Luggage
Tom Thumb Locket
Tom Thumb Locket

The Thumbs in Later Life

Most of the photographs we have collected come from the period near the 1863 wedding. An unexpected find came among a group of stereo cards relating to the civil war in Maryland. We acquired a small collection of Antitem battle field cards that included two cards of the colossal granite statue of the common soldier that stands in the battlefield cemetery. They were taken at Batterson's Quarry in Westerly, RI where the stature was made. In one of the cards a group of three couples and a single man stand around the base of the statue. One couple is Mr. and Mrs. Tom Thumb and one is Commodore Nutt and his wife! The card is undated but must have been made around the mid 1870s. The stature was exhibited at the Centennial Exhibition in 1876 and installed in Antitem around 1878.

The Thumbs continued to travel and appear around the world but life was not all joy. The 1878 death of Minnie in childbirth and an 1883 hotel fire in which they almost lost their lives were among the tragedies of the later years of their marriage.

A recent find is the cabinet card on the right by Bogardus. Dated in pencil "1881" it pictures the couple on a studio set balcony older and stouter than most of the images in our collection. The back bears pencil signatures, "Genl Tom Thumb" and "Mrs Genl Tom Thumb" which we were told have been authenticated.

Two years after the death of Tom Thumb in 1883 Lavinia married a younger man. She is seen below with her Italian husband, Count Primo Magri and his brother, Baron Giuseppe Magri. While the military titles that Barnum gave his midgets were fantasy titles the Count was actually given his title by the Pope.

They formed the Lilliputian Opera company which toured and appeared in several early motion pictures. Lavinia died in 1919 at the age of 78.

Lavinia Warren

Mr. & Mrs. Tom Thumb

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Updated on 3/2006