Mermaid on view at Duke's Auctions

HOAX:  The Fiji Mermaid had people queueing to see it in the 19th century

HOAX: The Fiji Mermaid had people queueing to see it in the 19th century

First published in News

Duke’s next auction will feature one of the great hoaxes of the 19th century, the rather gruesome ‘Fiji Mermaid’.

With the head of and torso of a monkey and the tail of a fish, this rogue ‘creature’ was a common feature of sideshows and circuses from the mid 1800s after being introduced by the most famous ‘Showman’ of the time, PT Barnum.

Presented as a genuine mummified half mammal half fish, crowds flocked to see the exhibit, unaware that what they were really looking at was a representation of a piece of Japanese Folklore – The Ningyo or Human Fish.

Anciently described as a creature with a monkey’s mouth, the small teeth of a fish and shining golden scales, the Ningyo was believed to bring storms and misfortune.

Representations were created by fisherman who crudely stitched the two parts together for use in religious ceremonies and this was almost certainly what Mr Barnum was passing off as a genuine mermaid.

Popular demand for the mermaid led to a host of similar artifacts being discovered and displayed throughout the world in the 19th and 20th century.

Estimated at £500-£1,000 and to be sold in the Fine Art Auction held on December 5, 6 and 7, Duke’s certainly hope this example of a ‘Fiji Mermaid’ will prove as popular as PT Barnum’s did all those years ago. For more information please call 01305 265080 or visit www.dukes-auctions.com

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