Jenny Hanivers (or Hannivers) is the general name given to fake mermaids concocted of various body parts of different species. Their origin is unknown and, as such, we can only guess at the origin of the name. Japan, Belgium and Spain seem to be mentioned most often in information about the "mermaids" but there is no definitive known history.

Japanese fishermen in the 16th century turned the creation of Jenny Hanivers into an art form, albeit a dubious one. The top of the "mermaid" was usually a monkey, the bottom a large fish. Hanniver creators became skilled at stitching the mermaids together in such a way that the darning and wires were not visible, resulting in a more lifelike, believeable mermaid. As time passed and the fad caught on across the seas, the creators of the Jenny Hanivers became more daring: in 1738 the Crown Tavern in London displayed a "mermaid" which consisted of wings, feet, a tail, fins on the thighs and the head of a lion... very believable.

The creators, usually fishermen, would assemble the "mermaid" then announce that they had caught it on their latest trip. They would charge interested parties to look at the creature, and tell them that before she had died the mermaid had said that bad luck would be cast upon anyone who did not carry an image of her on their person at all times. Luckily for the audience, the fisherman just happened to have some handy... for a small fee, of course. Eventually (probably when the "mermaid" started to stink) the Jenny Haniver was sold to a travelling circus, usually from London or New York, and would be exhibited in shows.

The most famous Jenny Haniver was the Fee Jee Mermaid (or Fiji Mermaid). Originally bought by an English business man in India, it eventually ended up in P.T Barnum's New York exhibition. Crowds flocked to see what they believed would be a beautiful mystical creature; they paid a penny to be greeted by a grotesque mess of a female orangutan sewed onto a salmon.


Information from "Mermaids, nymphs of the sea" by Theodore Gachot

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