The Lost Museum Archive

The Jenny Lind Ticket Auction, New York Herald, September 9, 1850

Barnum generated enormous publicity for Jenny Lind's tour by auctioning off the best seats to her first concert in New York City. As this item from the New York Herald relates, the highest bidder was none other than John N. Genin, proprieter of a hat shop next door to the American Museum. While some speculated that Genin and Barnum had a private agreement, this item instead posits that Genin and the other eager bidders hitched their interests to Barnum's public relations scheme and used the auction as a means to advertise their own products and businesses. (Genin subsequently designed a best-selling Jenny Lind Riding Hat, lending credence to the Herald's theory.) The item concludes on a populist note, cheering the notion that the tradesman Genin beat out "the aristocracy" in "a rivalry of dollars."

The report of the auction on Saturday of tickets to Jenny Lind's first concert, published in yesterday's Herald, has excited a good deal of interest in the city and the auction is the subject of conversation everywhere, particularly in reference to the first ticket, purchased by Genin, the hatter, whose establishment is next door to Barnum's Museum, in Broadway. Some say it is a juggle and that there has been an understanding between him and Barnum. But that does not account for the "bids" made by five others, who all seemed anxious to get it. There is a better solution of the mystery than to charge it to Peter Funk.* It was not that the first choice was one iota better than the second, which sold for twenty five dollars, or than another, which long afterwards was purchased adjoining the two hundred and twenty five dollar seats, for ten dollars, for, in point of fact, the seat selected by Mr. Genin, right under where Jenny Lind will stand when she sings, is by no means the best seat, and the choice shows that M r. Genin is a far greater adept in hat-making than in music; and we may add that but very few showed a good judgment in the selection of the choice seats for which they paid so high, the best seats being yet to be sold. But Genin would not, probably, give three dollars even for a seat on the stage to hear the Nightingale sing, if he had not some other object in view than the pleasure it would give him. We will be asked what can that object be? We answer--Genin has found out a secret by which a few men I this city have realized large fortunes. He has begun to study the philosophy of advertising, and being an enterprising fellow, he calculated that he would test the truth of the philosophy by a practical application, and resolved to give five hundred dollars for the choice seat in the whole house to Jenny Lind's first concert, rather than lose so fine a chance of advancing his interests. One gentleman asked him why he gave so much for a ticket, and if he was not a fool for doing so? "No," said he, "I will make it pay." Another came up, immediately after the sale, and offered him $50 premium on it if he would transfer it, and allow his name to go forth to the public as the purchaser. Genin said he would not give it for $500. We have the secret of the value of the ticket, in the fact of the kind of men who were his chief competitors for it. They were three patent medicine doctors, who have made fortunes by advertising, and regarded this as a trump card, knowing that the name of Jenny Lind would attract attention all over the country, and that their advertisements, being connected therewith, would be sure to be read. Genin calculated that this auction would be attended by a reporter from the Herald, and that if he bought the first choice ticket, his name and establishment would be recorded, and would come before a hundred times as many readers as it could by any other means. We understand he is about to follow up this idea on the night of the concert, and that he will sit in the front of the audience with an immense hat suspended over his head. Truly it is a Yankee notion.** The ticket is worth $1000 to him. We think we have now explained the secret of Genin's determination to have the first ticket. But why did the people cheer him so vehemently? For two reasons. First, for his ingenuity in advertising, by paying for a ticket to a concert, a sum that was never paid before, even in England; and secondly, because the first choice was taken from the upper ten by a tradesman. And here was a capital idea of Barnum's for putting the people against the aristocracy in a rivalry of dollars. He is a brick in his way and deserves to make money.

*Peter Funk was originally a character in The Perils of Pearl Street, Asa Greene's 1834 story about business life in New York City. Funk was a shape-shifting character who appeared wherever deceptive business practices took place; one specific incarnation of Peter Funk was as a by-bidder, or someone who deliberately drove up bids, at an auction. The name continued to signify a "confidence man" or swindler in 1840s and 1850s usage.

**This seems to be a pun using the title of Yankee Notions, a popular humor magazine. It also likely refers to Barnum's ill-concealed identity as the Yankee "Barnaby Diddleum," the showman narrator of an autobiography titled "The Adventures of an Adventurer, serialized in the New York Atlas in 1841.