Collector Willie Cadot joined our society as a charter member in 1975. Willie had scoured the country side buying up old photographic images. In the mid seventies he sold the images at antique shows and from his store The Magic Lantern on Queen St West in Toronto. One set of cabinet cards he had featured many strange and deformed individuals. These images by Charles Eisenmann, were traditional style portraits of well dressed but unusual subjects. The images were in excellent condition showing the skill of the photographer both in the studio and in his darkroom.
A young Toronto photographer and anthropologist, Michael Mitchell saw the images and was fascinated with the subjects and their photographer. He kept pressing a very reluctant Willie Cadot to sell the set. Eventually Michael’s perseverance paid off. He received a call one evening from Willie with an offer he couldn’t refuse. Willie had recently purchased a house and discovered it needed repairs. Being tight for cash, he decided to sell his set of Eisenmann cabinet cards.
After a few years of research, including the diligent search of New York trade weeklies of the 1860s (eg New York Clipper) on microfiche, Michael tracked down a considerable amount of information on Eisenmann, the mid-1800s Bowery, and many of the subjects of Eisenmann’s portraits. Once organized and edited, this material became the text of Monsters of the Gilded Age released by Gage publishing in 1979. The following March 1980, Michael was guest speaker at our monthly meeting.
The book wasn't widely distributed and eventually Michael bought the remaining copies and rights to the book. Subsequently it received wider circulation and recognition generating many requests for information and copies of the images.
Years later Michael sold his collection of Eisenmann cabinet cards through Sotheby’s auction house. He believes the photographs were studio proofs since each pose consisted of carefully printed images on blank cards plus one on the traditionally ornate signed card. Fortunately he kept the copy negatives and the proofed text to his book.
In the new century, Michael was once again involved with a publisher, this time a small quality publisher, ECW Press of Toronto. While chatting with the publisher, Jack Davis, Michael mentioned he had rights to a book about 19th century freaks. Davis sounded out a number of his contacts, including some in the circus industry and agreed to publish a new edition of the book with much better quality images in colour (images in the original book were printed with a single ink colour in lower resolution).