Victorian Freakshows

For centuries the word ‘freak’ has been used cruelly to describe people born with ‘abnormal’ features, or those able perform extraordinary physical acts by contorting or misshaping their bodies.

Freak shows were a particularly popular form of entertainment during the Victorian period, when Exhibitions of live human curiosities had appeared in travelling fairs, circuses and taverns in England since the 1600s. These included so-called giants, dwarves, fat, thin people, etc.

The British Library in their Bodies of Knowledge section has collected some striking examples of Advertising Freak Shows…  


[The Giant Amazon Queen, 1882; The British Library Board]


[“Chang” and “Eng” the world renowned Siamese twins, 1869; The British Library Board]


[Chang the Great Chinese Giant, 1880; The British Library Board]


[KRAO The missing Link; The British Library Board]


[Lalloo, ‘The greatest living wonder in the world’, 1887; The British Library Board]


[Living Mermaid; The British Library Board]


[Harvey’s Midges: the smallest people in the world; The British Library Board]


[The Great American Prize Lady, 1868; The British Library Board]


[The Giant Amazon Queen, 1882; The British Library Board]


[G.A.Farini’s Tattooed Greek, 1880; The British Library Board]


[Watsons’s Living Curiosities, 1885; The British Library Board]


[‘What is it?’, an act shown at The Royal Surrey Zoological Gardens, c.1846; The British Library Board]

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