Jenny Lind and Genin, the Hatter

The great humbug surrounding the first Jenny Lind ticket auction in New York in 1850

How a hatter from Broadway made himself immortal with the help of Phineas Taylor Barnum and thus did the most clever marketing of the decade.

This is the story of someone who took advantage of Jenny Lind's fame like no other. I want to tell you about John Nicholas Genin, whom everyone in New York in the mid-19th century actually just called Genin, the Hatter. Taking perfect advantage of the hype surrounding Jenny Lind, the Hatter auctioned off the first ticket for a Jenny Lind concert in America, and at an exorbitant price at the time. 

Is it all true? As the friar Giordano Bruno so aptly wrote: "Se non è vero, è ben trovato". If it is not true, at least it is well invented.

Jenny Lind and Genin, the Hatter - A design for the Genin Bridge over Broadway. Wood engraving by J. W. Orr. Source: Wikipedia / Library of Congress USA
A design for the Genin Bridge over Broadway. Wood engraving by J. W. Orr. Source: Wikipedia / Library of Congress USA
Jenny Lind Mania already before the arrival of the Swedish Nightingale

A heated wild atmosphere

Even before Jenny Lind's arrival in New York on 1 September 1850, Genin's neighbour, the future circus director and king of humbug, Phineas Taylor Barnum (Barnum's freaks, America's King Humbug and his Cabinet of Curiosities) had been driving everyone absolutely crazy with Jenny Lind's imminent arrival in America. In the absence of sound recordings, the fact that the first attempt to lay a cable between Europe and America would not take place until 1857 and that nobody in the USA actually knew Jenny Lind, Barnum was able to stage the Swedish singer in the best possible way in terms of media. And his marketing met with a deeply pious, proud population that was overly full of itself. Eastern America was booming, the country was industrialising. Many posters announced Jenny Lind's arrival, the newspapers were actually filled daily with small announcements and news about her last concerts in Europe, her departure from Liverpool. Actually, nobody knew her, but the staging as the greatest singer in Europe, if not the world, who also had a big heart and a full wallet for charity, formed the ideal basis for the Lind Mania that was in the offing, which far exceeded the hype surrounding today's pop stars.

On the seventh of August, weeks before Jenny Lind's arrival, the Port Tobacco Times wrote,

Port Tobacco Times

On Jenny Lind's arrival here, she will find a majority of the spring and summer crop of female babies bearing her name, with good prospects for a countless addituion to the number during her pilgrimage over the land of pilgrims.

Port Tobacco Times, and Charles County Advertiser, 7 August 1850

Furthermore, the author complains that there are already Jenny Lind hats, shoes, scoops, bonnets and combs. It was to get and get worse. Because after the concerts, the self-serving marketing of her name really took off. (Even Jenny Lind cheese from the Benedict department stores' in Petersburg existed and was said to have a particularly good effect on the voice. Source: The North-Carolinian, 28 September 1850) Newspapers themselves felt inspired to write poems, like this one from the New York Post, which was published a little later by the Sunbury American from Pennsylvania the day before Jenny Lind's arrival:

Sunbury American

On the wings of every wind
Comes the broad fame of Jenny Lind –
"Atlantic" steamer, favor'd of her kind,
Will bear the treasured freight of Jenny Lind –
Mermaids rejoice ! long tailed and finn'd,
To hear the notes of Jenny Lind !
Neptune his coral shell doth wind,
To welcome the fair Jenny Lind –
The mighty whaler to sportiveness inclin'd,
Spouts up his jet of brinde for Jenny Lind –
While all the fishes of the sea
Leap up, to hear her minstrelsy!

Sunbury American, 31. August 1850

The Shepherdstown Register compared Jenny Lind's arrival in America with no less than the arrival of General La Fayette (source: Shepherdstown Register of 27 August 1850), even a separate hall was erected for her performances, at least The Daily Crescent wrote about it on 01 August 1850. But reports of her last concerts in Liverpool also contributed significantly to her reputation and to Lind Mania. For example, the New York Herald wrote on 28 August 1850: "At a concert given by Jenny Lind in Liverpool on Friday, the house was filled to capacity, and tickets were sold at a high price." Today we would say Jenny Lind was downright hyped, and yes, that is probably true. The ordinary newspaper reader was accustomed to finding advertisements for Jenny Lind braids (Port Tobacco Times, 7 August 1850), Jenny Lind sheet music and song lyrics (Daily Richmond Times 17 August 1850) or, for example, for 15,000 Jenny Lind cigars (The North-Carolina Standard, 14 August 1850) among his news. It may have been impossible to escape it in everyday life, but it was certainly impossible to escape it at the newspaper door.

This was the Barnum-fuelled atmosphere Jenny Lind encountered upon her arrival. More than 30,000, perhaps even 40,000 people are said to have been waiting at the quay for the arrival of the ship Atlantik, with the Swedish Nightingale on board. Even on the surrounding rooftops and in all the windows facing the Hudson, onlookers stood and sat, according to Charles C. Rosenberg in his book Jenny Lind in America. Although the Tarboro' Press of 28 September 1850 calls it a rumour that Jenny Lind's coachman used the whip not only on the horses but also on the crowd, it must have been, and other newspapers at the time wrote so, not easy to get from the Hudson wharf at Canal Street to the Irving House at the corner of Chambers Street and Broadway.

The torchlight processions of the firemen and the live concert in front of their hotel room will be told another time. But Lind Mania was at its peak.

The auction

Barnums brilliant idea

Castle Garden

Built in 1811, initially as an artillery position off the island of Manhattan. The fortress was connected to Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan by a causeway. In 1824, the fort was converted into a theatre, Castle Garden. Later the seats were roofed over and Jenny Lind gave her first performance there on Wednesday 11 September 1850. Its time as a theatre was over by 1855 and until 1890 it was used by New York State as an immigration station. From 1896 to 1941, the former theatre served as a show aquarium. After that, it was restored to its fortress state. Today, tickets for the trip to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island can be bought in the building.

Castle Clinton

Nothing can create more excitement than scarcity. Imagine being able to bid for the best seat in front of the stage at a Lady Gaga concert, one of Elton John's rare appearances or another artist. Now imagine that the next day the press reports on the insane six-figure sum you paid for this free choice of seats and the first ticket. You would be the talk of the town. 

P. T. Barnum had this crazy idea and in retrospect one has to write that he could not have come up with a better advertising idea.

And he left nothing to chance, at least if the article in the Essex County Herald of 11 November 1887 is to be believed. The latter quoted from an article in the Cosmopolitan Magazine. There Barnum describes how he, together with the milliner Genin and a doctor he knew, set up the auction deal.

Essex County Herald

I clearly saw what effect this auction sale of Jenny Lind tickets would necessarily have in the existing excited state of the public mind; and that the higher the prices obtaines, the more would the frenzy be increased. Therefore, three days before the auction of concert tickets was to come off, I went quitly to John N. Genin, a popular hat-maker, and told him I had a secret business suggestion to impart, which id shrewdly managed, would, as I believed, help him thousands of dollars as an advertisement.

Essex County Herald , 11 November 1887

And after a few more explanations, Genin, who was a good salesman himself, chimed in and said to Barnum: "BBarnum, you have my fortune. I will buy the first Jenny Lind ticket, but I will not mention it to my wife till I have secured it." (Source: ibid.)

When Barnum later reflected on the conversation, at least as he describes it in this report, it occurred to him that the plan would only work if the bids were high enough. So he looked for more helpers so that the deal would work out to everyone's satisfaction. According to his own statements, he found one in Dr. Brandreth, who was himself a gifted self-promoter of tablets. The fact that he went along with the deal does not necessarily speak for the quality of the pills sold.

And it was under these circumstances that the first auction for the sale of concert tickets took place four days before Jenny Lind's first concert in America, on Saturday 7 September 1850. The concert was to take place in Castle Garden, which at that time was still a theatre in a former fortress island off the coast of Manhattan and was only connected to Manhattan by a dam. In the audience were Dr. Brandreth and Genin, the Hatter, who both knew nothing about each other.

The auction was organised by the auction house Henry H. Leeds, New York, and Mr. Leeds himself conducted the auction. The auction itself also took place in Castle Garden. Remains of the former theatre still exist today and are known as Castle Clinton in Battery Park, New York.

The Freemon weekly Freeman wrote the following about the proceedings on 28 September:

Fremont weekly Freeman

Notwithstanding the pouring rain this morning, great numbers of people wended their way down Broadway at an early hour, to attend the ticket auction for the first concert of Jenny Lind.

The charge of one shilling for admittance to the Garden, a mistake afterwards explained, produced some curious ebullitions; and in addition to the rain, which came down in torrents sufficient to damp everybody's ardor at the hour of commenceing the performances, no doubt deterred a number who would have entered into the spirit of the scene with ardor.

At least 3,000 persons, however, were present, filling the whole body of the Garden, and leving a goodly number to occupy the balcony.

The auctioneer, Mr. Leeds, appeared punctually at the time appointed, but his audience were compelled to wait in uneasy expectancy for the arrival of the diagrams of the house. These, however, having been delayed at the printer's, did not make their appearance, and the bidding was commenced without them. - A good deal of confusion was necessarily attendant upon the sales in consequence of this delay.

Mr. Leeds now mounted his platform, and made an off hand statement of the rules and regulations of the day.

All the tickets sold must be called for before 12 o'clock on Monday. All that are not applied for at the time specified will be disposed of to the first person applying.

The choice of tickets was sold, with the privilege of purchasing 1 to 10. No privilege higher than 10 was given. Now commenced the exciting struggle for the first choice.

The first bid was $20. From this starting point the calls grew louder and more energetic: "Twenty-five'--'thirty'_thirty-five--forty'_ sixty' - 'seventy-five'— 'eighty,' ("Give me the hundred, cries Mr. Leeds.)" Ninety' - one hundred,' (Auctioneer-'I've got it!') "One hundred and five,' (a very low price! Mr. Leeds.) One hundred and ten,''twenty-five'-thirty'-'forty'-'one hundred and fifty'-'one kundred and seventy-five'-Two hundred' (Loud cheers,) - Two Hundred and twenty-five,' ($225); here there was at last a stop, and curious glances were shot around to discover the fortunate candidate. Genin' Hatter!

So the honor of the first purchase is fairly won by Mr. John N, Genin, the well known hatter of No. 214 Broadway. The competition for this chase was very spirited, and there were many candidates for the honor. The announcement of the success of Mr. Genin, was received with a tremendous outburst of applause.

Fremont weekly Freeman vom 28. September 1850

A few weeks later, the Lewisburg Chronicle wrote about this event: "One of the admission to the first concert of Jenny Lind, sold at auction fo $225 ! Truly the raze of fools is not extinct." (Source: Lewisburg Chronicle, 25 September 1850). At this first auction, 1,429 tickets were sold for a total price of $9,119.25, an average price of $6.38. It was expected, writes the Port Tobacco Times of 11 September 1850, that a total of $30,000 worth of tickets would be sold for this first concert.

And what did Jenny Lind say about it, who knew nothing about the whole fake? Jenny Lind wrote about her success in New York in the same letter to her parents:

I was received with a terrible enthusiasm. I have already given six concerts in New York; a hall that holds 11,000 people has been overflowing every time, and we could give another 40 to 50 concerts in New York alone.

Everything is happening here on a large scale. The first ticket sold here in the city the day before yesterday (for the first concert, which is to take place today) fetched a price of - - - - 625 dollars! The concert tickets are auctioned here. It's terrible what masses of money people tend to have here.

Source: H.S. Holland und W.S. Rockstro: Jenny Lind, Ihre Laufbahn als Künstlerin. 1820 bis 1851. S. 371

As far as I know, Jenny Lind was wrong about the price. It was $225 in the first auction.

The New York Herald, 28 May 1847, Page 3
The New York Herald, 28 May 1847, Page 3
John Nicholas Genin, der Hutmacher von 214 Broadway, New York

Genin, The Hatter

An Illustrated History of the Hat:

From the Earliest Ages to the Present Time

"An illustrated history of the hat, from the earliest times to the present day",

that is what John Nicholas Genin called his little illustrated history of the hat. The slim booklet has 54 pages and some drawn illustrations are included. At the end Genin, the Hatter lists his prizes, which at that time were the prize for the best silk hat (1845), the prize for the best caps and the prize for the best silk caps and children's hats.

As Genin writes in a promotional way at the end of his booklet: "But the day of patents in the manufacture of hats has gone by. The only patent which any manufacturer can now lay claim to, is the patent of superior qualification for his business, which receives direct from nature."

Google Books

John Nicholas Genin was born in Manhattan on 19 October 1819. He was therefore only one year older than Jenny Lind and at the time of her arrival he was almost 31 years old. Throughout his life he was adept at self-marketing. At only 24, he opened his first hat shop on Broadway, initially at number 90. "The third door of Wall Street," as the ad in the New York Herald smartly notes. (Source: The New York herald, 14 September 1843)

In 1847, he expanded his business and moved to number 214 on Broadway, directly across from St. Paul's Chapel, which may be the only building on Broadway that still exists from that time. The advertisement in the Herald is worth reading and, I think, extremely informative (Source: The New York Herald, 29 May 1843) He placed ads in the New York Herald regularly, if not daily. But he also placed ads in Connecticut for his business in New York, wooing his clientele with the three essentials of Elegance, Excellence and Economy. A beaver hair hat cost $4.50, a second one saved a dollar. And in this ad, he advertises his new book, The Illustrated History of the Hat, for the first time. (Source: Litchfield Enquirer, 1. Juni 1848) 1 June 1848, that is just two weeks after the opening of the first all-German parliament in the Paulskirche in Frankfurt. (Note on chronology) Genin sold his book in his shop on Broadway.

Already in the mid-19th century, the volume of traffic on Broadway was considerable and crossing the street, among all the horse-drawn companions, was life-threatening. Genin, the Hatter had a bridge built over Broadway so that the ladies and gentlemen who wanted to visit his hat shop could cross the street safely. Of course, the little bridge was also a success because it gave people a view of Broadway from the middle of the street for the first time.

In the days following the auction, many newspapers wrote that hardly anyone could have done anything more foolish than buy a concert ticket for $225. They called him "a Mad Hatter" (source: The Cordova daily times, 1 September 1920). The Fremont Weekly Freeman already vigorously contradicted the similarly worded titles on 28 September 1850:

Fremont Weekly Freeman

Probably Genin never did a wiser thing than this. It will give him a celebrity which be could not have purchased in any other way. for a hundred times $225. Every paper in the Union will speak of him, and “Genin the hatter” will become almost as celebrated as Jenny Lind herself. Every man that wears a hat will think of Genin; and if he could pass through the country, every one who wants a hat would be drawn to his bazzar to look at his beavers. Not a man will pass bis store for the next twelve months without looking in to get a peep at him. The ladies, as they note his number, will exclaim, “Here is Genin's;" and the boys as they meet him, will whisper mysteriously to each other. There goes Genin, the Hatter."

Fremont Weekly Freeman, Saturday, 28 September 1850

And that's exactly how it was going to be.

America-wide fame through a concert ticket

Hats, Hats, Hats

Even the London Times reported on the auction. And between Portland (Maine) and Houston (Texas) the telegraph lines were buzzing and almost every newspaper reported on this auction and the Mad Hatter from New York. The Pacific Commercial Adviser wrote in 1864 in a report on past and present frauds (humbug) that nearly two million readers must have read reports about Genin, the Hatter. (Source: The Pacific Commercial Advertiser, 1 October 1864)

What an outreach!

Every reader who happened to have a hat on took it off and looked inside to see if it might not be from Genin. An editor in Iowa reported that his neighbour discovered the name Genin in his hat and immediately told everyone outside the post office building. It was quickly agreed that the old hat would have to be auctioned off, and so it was. And what happened? The old hat brought fourteen dollars.

That gives a whole new meaning to the saying, that's an old hat after all.

A veritable run on the business on Broadway began. Customers were willing to pay an extra dollar or more just to get a glimpse of Genin himself. The author of the Pacific Commercial Advertiser wrote that there was nothing bad to say about the hats, quite the contrary, Genin was a true and honest gentleman, but the ticket auction and the media hype that followed put thousands upon thousands of dollars in his pockets.

In 1904, the St. Louis Republic wrote that Jenny Lind had made only two men rich besides herself. One was Barnum, the later circus director as whom he is known today, the other, who had nothing to do with the concert tour or the management, this other was Genin, the Hatter. Before the concert, he had been a good hatter, but an unknown one. And Genin could even profit from further Jenny Lind concerts, because at every concert Barnum told about the circumstance he himself had created. Look here, Jenny Lind is such an attraction, a New York milliner paid 225 dollars for the first ticket. (Source: The St. Louis Republic. of 05 June 1904)

And so the story of Genin, the Hatter became a legend told over and over again. Even during the Hatter's lifetime, The Alleghanian newspaper listed the story of the Jenny Lind ticket in its multi-column article, "The Art of Money-Getting." (Source: The Alleghanian, 3 March 1864) But John Nicholas Genin also remained true to himself. Whenever an opportunity presented itself, he skilfully used publicity. He himself campaigned in the media for clean streets in New York in 1854 or had the aforementioned bridge built over Broadway to make it easier for his customers to cross the dangerous Broadway.

Genin, the Hatter died in New York on 30 April 1878. This is his story.

tl, dr;

This is the story of the hatter, Genin, the Hatter, who was helped to a lifetime of business success by P.T. Barnum, who bought the first ticket to Jenny Lind's first concert in America.

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