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Antique Feejee Mermaids

Historical Evidence from Other Sources

Click on each stamp for a larger image.

Some mermaid tales were the second-hand stories of adventurers and travelers, used to amaze an audience upon returning home. Greek mariners told tales of harrowing escapes from sirens; one of these lived at the bottom of a whirlpool in the Gulf of Satalia, and sang songs to raise the storms, which caused ships to sink into her eager clutches. In the sixteenth century, Samuel Purchas, a clerk of holy orders and a repository of worldly knowledge, told of a mermaid’s skin which he witnessed in the port sea of Thora, on the edges of the Red Sea.

And not all encounters were distant sightings or timeless myths. In 1403, a mermaid was reportedly stranded by falling floodwaters outside of Eton, Holland, and discovered by a group of women and their servants. The English minister John Swan, who wrote about the event in his publication "Speculum Mundi" (1635), states that the mermaid took to wearing clothes, spinning, and other "petty offices of women", but that she never spoke.

Feejee Mermaid, dated 1875
Antique English Feejee Mermaid

In 1738, the London Daily Post reported the showing of a ‘Maremaid’ for a shilling’s admission. A miniature mermaid was spotted off the shores of the Hebrides in 1830; she was struck with a rock and killed, but buried by the townsfolk, all of whom swore the validity of their marvellous tale. Yet another mermaid was captured off Scottish shores in 1881, then brought to New Orleans to confound and amaze the curious crowds.

On rare and happier occasions, merfolk left the waters to take human form, and join their beloved in holy matrimony, casting aside their pagan roots. The descendants of Machaire, Ireland, claim to be the product of a long-ago union between a man and a mermaid, who left her wave-tossed home and followed him to land.

Victorian Mermaid
Russian Mermaid
Old Chinese Mummy Mermaid

The most famous of mermaids on display, however, was the FeeJee Mermaid -- a twisted and grotesque abomination, horrifying Victorian sensibilities and titillating the masses. It was brought to New York in 1842 by a mysterious and dapper English gentleman, "Dr. J. Griffith", who claimed it was a genuine mermaid which had been caught by Japanese fishermen. In truth, Dr. Griffith was PT Barnum's associate, Levi Lyman, and the Mermaid was nothing more than a monkey's body sewn onto a fish's tail. While many copies exist, the original FeeJee Mermaid was probably lost when Barnum's museum was destroyed by fire during the 1860's, but a replica of the Mermaid exists at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at the University of Harvard.

P.T. Barnum's Mermaid

That the FeeJee Mermaid itself was a copy is not in dispute. It was most certainly a hoax, but what if the FeeJee Mermaid was not a grotesque version of a fantastic myth, but the portrait of a living creature? [explanatory text on this page was contributed by Kim Bannerman]

Japanese Mermaid
Mermaid at Ye Olde Curiuosity Shop, Seattle
Japanese Mermaid
Antique Fiji Mermaid Postcard
2 mermaids, 1920 postcard
From England
Malaysian Mermaid
Japanese Mermaid


See more Antique Mermaids in the next gallery


All the items shown on this gallery are very old examples of Mermaids and Postcards. If you have an antique Mermaid or Postcard and wish to sell or trade, please contact me at as I will make a very good offer. Thank you for visiting!

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gallery4.htm   modified 2009.01.23