For over two centuries, the delicate art of dressing fleas in tiny costumes flourished in Guanajuato, Mexico. It is believed the craft had its beginnings in Mexican convents, and was later taken up by villagers to supply the general tourist trade during the early 1900s.
Known as pulgas vestidas, these individual insect characters were accessorized with shoes, hats, belts...even infinitesimal loaves of bread. Distinguished, elegantly attired fleas could be purchased at the shop into the 1930s, before the tradition eventually faded away and became a lost art. Examples such as those on display at Ye Olde Curiosity Shop are now rare.
Octavio Paz weighs In
Esteemed Mexican poet, writer, philosopher and diplomat Octavio Paz had much to say about the art of flea adornment. You would think a winner of the 1990 Nobel Prize in Literature wouldn't give this peculiar pastime a moment’s thought, but in the 1920s he called it a “difficult art, exquisite and useless.” He went on to add, “I shall never be one to disparage this amazing skill, since where spiritual health is concerned, building a skyscraper and adorning a flea are each as monstrous as the other.”
The Thousand-Pound Flea
The prestige-laden Natural History Museum in London has had its struggle with popular image like any other long-established institution. Despite the fact that the NHM is one of the world’s leaders in scientific research, the public perception of the Museum's collecting practices since its founding in 1881 has lead to some amusing rumors... some of which found their way into British newspapers. For instance, a newspaper clipping from January 1914 claimed that entomologist Charles Rothschild paid £1,000 (about $119,000 in today’s dollars) for a single rare flea. Though Rothschild published an immediate rebuttal, the confusion remains. Because, hello... the NHM does display an example of Mexican dressed fleas!
Peg Boettcher has been wrangling curios and working for Ye Olde Curiosity Shop since 2004.
• A poem called Dressing Fleas by Miriam Gamble
• A video clip of a flea circus in action
• Another interesting facet of Guanajuato: Mummies of Guanajuato
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