Traditionally these were made in Japan for Shinto shrines and temples, although they caused a sensation when first seen by Westerners – the American sea captain Samuel Barrett Eades selling his boat to pay $6000 for the example he was shown by Dutch merchants in 1810.
First displayed in London in 1822, this became the famous ‘Feejee Mermaid’ when exhibited by master showman PT Barnum in New York in 1842.
Similar creations became relatively commonplace at Victorian side shows and freak shows, with most fashioned from papier-mâché, wood, and a mix of bird, fish and mammal skeletal parts. The example on show in the Horniman Museum in south London was first acquired by the Wellcome Collection in 1919 under the name ‘Japanese monkey-fish’.
The specimen, measuring 3ft 8in (1.12m) long, was among the most eagerly contested lots at Sworders’ Out of the Ordinary sale held in Stansted Mountfitchet on February 13. Estimated at £1000-1500, it sold at £4700.
Woolley & Wallis sold a similar ‘mermaid’ in January 2015 for £4200.