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Home > News, Articles & Multimedia > Blog Entry > Dressed Fleas and Flea Circus are Not Necessarily for the Dogs

Dressed Fleas and Flea Circus are Not Necessarily for the Dogs

by WorthPoint Staff (05/11/09).

Lisa Townley’s great grandmother’s bride and groom “pulgas vestidas” or dressed fleas.

Lisa Townley’s great grandmother’s bride and groom “pulgas vestidas” or dressed fleas.

One of the most unusual and interesting Ask A Worthologist questions that we have come across was posed by Lisa Townley, a WorthPoint member from Texas, regarding a small matchbox that contained miniature wedding dress and tuxedo—worn by a flea bride and groom. Lisa told me that she remembered the small box from when she was a child; she was told it had belonged to her great grandmother. Lisa further remembered that when she was a child, the flea groom had a top hat and the flea bride a veil, which have since disappeared. Oh, the things that people did for entertainment before radios, TV and computers. Women sewed and dressed these fleas in very elaborate costumes. One can only imagine the hours spent laboring on the itty-bitty costumes. It’s an unusual form of folk art that has all but disappeared, and I wonder who had the job to catch the fleas. Mike Wilcox, one of WorthPoint’s Generalists Worthologist, did the valuation for Lisa.

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Dressed fleas from the Tring Museum.

Dressed fleas from the Tring Museum.

“Flea brides and grooms (dressed, but dead) were popular collector’s items in the 1920s,” Mike reported. “In Mexico during that period you, might find “pulgas vestidas“—or “dressed fleas”—for sale. Fleas were dressed in tiny costumes. The history of flea art appears to have originated in Mexican convents, and was later taken up by the general tourist trade during the early 1900s.” There were also traveling shows, carnivals and flea circuses that went from town to town, where the audiences were amazed by that they saw. Or, might I say, what they thought they saw. Trained fleas were pulling and pushing objects much larger and many times the flea’s weight, as well as performing other amazing gymnastic triumphs. There were many tricks of the trade that gave the illusion of the fleas doing these tricks and performing. The curiosity for the flea circus died out in the 1930s, due to the general public’s increase knowledge of hygiene. The dressed fleas survived on as folk art souvenirs a while longer, until around the 1960s. To take a look at this short video to see a flea circus in action, watch this video.

A poster for a flea circus.

A poster for Profesor Likonti's Flea Circus.

Mike Wilcox placed a fair market value for the dressed fleas at $75. The dressed fleas ranked a rare factor of 5 on our scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being most rare. Lisa’s wedding fleas remind me of one of the great pleasures of being a collector: to put yourself, if even for an instant, in the mind set of the people who created and treasured things long ago. Although we will never know who sat sewing these tiny costumes, we do know that flea circuses were bringing pleasure and entertainment to people as early as 1833, as they were advertised in England at that time. And we can imagine that the fleas belong to Lisa’s great grandmother, who probably took this little couple home, and kept them as a reminder of a very special trip to the circus. I always think how fortunate it is when family members hold on to special mementos and pass them on to younger generations. This is one of those little things that so easily could have been tossed away and forgotten about, but thanks to Lisa’s relatives, we all got a little look into the past. Dressing fleas belongs to a bygone era, but you can still see videos of flea circuses and how fleas are “trained” in the Internet. While the idea of flea circuses is fun and nostalgic, the way the insects were “trained” is a different and less-pleasant story. You can read about some of training techniques here. You can also find a list of current flea circus performers.

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11 Responses to “Dressed Fleas and Flea Circus are Not Necessarily for the Dogs”

  1. Amy Windler says:

    This is by far, the funniest, most interesting item I have come across in ages. To think that if I were not trying to price a Gustave Prucha oil painting, I may have died never knowing this amazing bit of truth and history. I think I remember a Three Stooges bit that referenced a flea circus. We have all heard of them and/or seen a cartoon mention of them but never did I think that people actually spent the time, energy and ingenuity(?) to actually have done it. If you are blessed to live long enough you can never say you’ve seen everything.

    That is why I find every moment alive a joy and a blessing!
    Thank You Worthapedia!

    AmyIsAmazed

  2. Rich says:

    Would flea art have any possible connection to the origin of the expression “flea market”?

  3. I’ve heard of about 4 or 5 examples of pulgas vestidas around the globe so I’d agree with your rare factor. Presumably because they are so small they are easy to loose.

    • Duane Rosenberry says:

      Wow, What a great find, Are you planning on selling them?, When I was a kid in meade Kansas, we had the dressed fleas exhibit at the Dalton Gang hideout. I told people about them, They thought I was crazy. Would love to replace the exhibit, there in Meade. Let me know.
      Long Live the Dressed Fleas.

  4. Jory says:

    My father recently passed away. In going through his possessions, I discovered a small sealed box containing 5 sets of dressed fleas. Two of the sets appear to be bride and groom sets. The other 3 are couples in Mexican costume. The box containing these five sets has a glass top. There is a seal on the back which states “proof against destructive insects and sealed against moisture, etc.” I have not found anything on the internet about a set this large. The information contained about is the largest article I have come across.

    • lauren says:

      Hi there Jory.

      I am interested in your collection of dressed up fleas. Are you considering selling any of these? I would be highly interested.
      Thanks
      Lauren

  5. Lila says:

    wow it’s hard to believe that these flea bride and grooms weren’t lost.

  6. Bill Hayes says:

    There is pair of Mexican fleas dressed as water carriers at the Tring Natural History Museum in Hertfordshire, UK. The museum is an outer annex of the Natural History museum in London.

  7. Steve says:

    Am very interested in Dressed fleas or Pulgas Vestidas. If you have a display, or collection for sale, leave a reply, and I will follow up. We can arrange to pay via paypal, or direct transfer.

  8. Maggie Turnipseed says:

    Geno,

    I am not a collector of these, but perhaps your post here will result in someone contacting you to purchase them.

    Thank you ,

    Maggie

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