Becoming a First Rate Showman

Becoming a First Rate Showman

In recent blogs we’ve gotten to know a couple of the “personalities” in Barnum’s letters, Fordyce Hitchcock and Emile Guillaudeu. And by now “Monsieur Pinte” is also a name familiar to readers of this series. Barnum had hired him to serve as the interpreter for Gen. Tom Thumb’s entourage, accompanying the dozen people on their tour through the countryside of France, and he often refers to Pinte in his correspondence.  Usually it was to give some guidance or specific instructions on what should be done when the party, plus four ponies and a miniature coach, reached the next town.

Perusing just a few of the letters to Mon. Pinte, or mentioning him to others, quickly reveals that Barnum liked, but liked to needle, Pinte, apparently because at some point Pinte had expressed disdain for the appellation “showman,” feeling it was beneath a man with a university education.  However, he was conflicted because he intended to set up his own “museum” in Paris, and realized it would be hard to escape being called a showman if he followed through on his plans.  Barnum, himself a showman, seems to have taken the slight in good humor and relished opportunities to tease Pinte on the subject.  Frequently he refers to, or addresses him directly as, “Showman Pinte” or “Aidecamp Pinte.”  The aide de camp title was in keeping with the military titles Barnum “assigned” in jest to other members of the entourage.  For example, he often addressed Mr. Sherman, the young General’s preceptor, as “Commodore Sherman,” and Sherwood Stratton, the boy’s father, as “Major Stratton,” and once referred to his instructions to Sherman as a “Naval Bulletin.”  (So far, Barnum has continued these witticisms in his correspondence.)

In an undated October letter to Stratton sent from Lyon, Barnum enclosed a letter of instructions to Mon. Pinte, starting off with a compliment: “You have now got to be a first rate showman (there’s no soft soap in this) and I now proceed to put some of the responsibilities of office upon your shoulders.”  Assuming Pinte was hired at the time the entourage was departing Paris, by Fall he would have had three or four months’ experience under his belt, and by October Barnum must have felt he was reliable and able to work as part of the team, most closely with Sherman and Stratton.  Letters to those two men often include instructions to have Pinte assist them.  On October 17th, Barnum wrote from Lyon and requested Sherman to

“. . . send all the books [programs] of Petit Poucet that you can scrape [together] and direct them to Monsieur Fleury, Director du Grand Theatre Lyon.  If you have only one that is stamped by the Minister at Paris you must carry that with you to Toulon, but as soon as the manager has made use of it in Toulon you must send it to Mr Fleury—as they cant play Petit Poucet here or anywhere else without first having a copy that is stamped—to exhibit to the authorities.  If you have 2 copies stamped send one with the rest to Mr Fleury—if you have only one ^stamped then send those which are not stamped & have Mr Pinte write to Mr Fleury that he will send him one stamped as soon as he gets to Toulon—and he must not fail to do so.

This was followed by precise instructions on how the booklets were to be prepared for mailing, with paper crossbands to “be put on firmly . . . still leaving a good part of the book uncovered so that the Post Office folks can see that it is a pamphlet.”

Barnum’s enclosure to Pinte a week later provided all the particulars about getting promotional printing done and distributed.  Though Barnum said he was handing the responsibility over to Pinte, it sounds like he had done much of the groundwork:

I wish you to take charge of the Bill & newspaper printing in Lyon—of course consulting with Mr. Stratton.  I’ll give you a list of the papers & tell you what I have done so far & then you can judge what I necessary to do afterwards.

Barnum followed with a list of six newspapers, detailing their publication frequency and advertising rates, between 25 and 40 sous per ad (a sous was 1/20 of a franc).  He also noted the dates and terms he had arranged, such as first advertising on October 18th and 19th, then waiting until the 26th, “after which they are to continue it every day till you stop it.”  A couple of the papers would publish the ads gratis, provided they were given “billets” (tickets).  Barnum noted he had already “given the journals billets for five persons each” and instructed Pinte to “renew them when you & Mr. Stratton think best.”

In addition to the newspapers, Barnum asked Pinte to take charge of the “affiches,” notices that could be posted or distributed as handbills.  Barnum informed Pinte, “All the affiches are torn down every morning all over the town [of Lyon], and of course new ones put up every morning . . . .”  This seemed to be the custom in other—and perhaps all—towns, as Barnum mentioned this once before.  Barnum had arranged to have 300 “large affiches” printed, and 2000 small ones, which he referred to as “programmes.”  The large ones were to be parceled out for posting in groups of 50, which Pinte would need to pay to have done on six dates between October 20th  and 29th; then he and Stratton were to decide on the 28th if more should be printed, and if so, the size and information to include.  (For an example of advertising text, see these pages in the letter copybook for an ad that Barnum had prepared in August; it is in French of course!)  Barnum told Pinte the order for 2000 small affiches might be sufficient, as he already paid the hotel’s commissioner to “distribute the present 2000 among all the first families before you arrive—with General’s little card inside each programme.”

General Tom Thumb Calling Card
This miniature calling card, also called a visiting card, is imprinted with the stage name of Charles S. Stratton, “Gen. Tom Thumb.” Barnum’s letters tell us that calling cards were included with “programmes”—probably like handbills—distributed as advance promotion to the wealthier residents of the towns where Charles performed. (Collection of the Barnum Museum)

The bit about the little cards caught my eye since the Barnum Museum has several of Gen. Tom Thumb’s miniature calling cards with matching envelopes in the collection.  Being tiny, just over an inch long, and finely printed, the cards are definitely something people would want to keep (though could easily lose).  These miniature cards, as well as normal-sized cards, must have been a very popular give-away, used throughout the period of Charles Stratton’s career (1843 – 1883) when calling cards were in common use.  (Unlike today’s business cards, a calling card simply had the person’s name on it, printed in an elegant script or other elaborate font.)

Confident that Pinte could be trusted to fulfill his print-promotions assignment along with other duties, Barnum offered encouragement.  I can just imagine the glint in Barnum’s eyes as he penned his closing words to Pinte in the letter of instructions, kindly but seasoned with another “Showman” barb:

Now old fellow go ahead – use economy & judgement & one of these days you will be rich, and be known as the Prince of Showmen – especially after you have exhibited my mermaid and the petrified woman.

As for Barnum’s last quip, you may recall that we recently “encountered” the petrified woman in correspondence with Fordyce Hitchcock.  Barnum had been doubtful about its appeal to visitors to his American Museum, but Manager Hitchcock’s judgment prevailed, the people came, the money rolled in, and Barnum was delighted, as this additional mention confirms. I’ve no doubt you are already familiar with Barnum’s famous FeJee Mermaid exhibit, which made quite a splash when it debuted in New York in 1842, so we’ll leave it at that, and let Mon. Pinte get on with his work.

Adrienne Saint-Pierre
Barnum Museum Curator