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One suggestion for the origin of the term was the French phrase jeune d'Anvers ('young [person] of Antwerp'). British sailors "cockneyed" this description into the personal name "Jenny Hanvers". They are also widely known as "Jenny Haviers".
For centuries, sailors sat on the Antwerp docks and carved these "mermaids" out of dried skates. They then preserved them further with a coat of varnish. They supported themselves by selling their artistic creations to working sailors as well as to tourists visiting the docks.
The earliest known picture of Jenny Haniver appeared in Konrad Gesner's Historia Animalium vol. IV in 1558. Gesner warned that these were merely disfigured rays and should not be believed to be miniature dragons or monsters, which was a popular misconception at the time.
The most common misconception was that Jenny Hanivers were Basilisks. As Basilisks were creatures that killed with merely a glance, no one could claim to know what one looks like. For this reason it was easy to pass off Jenny Hanivers as these creatures which were still widely feared in the 1500s.
- The Jenny Haniver is an airship in the Mortal Engines Quartet series of novels by Philip Reeve, and a boat in one of its prequels, A Web of Air.
- The Bermuda Depths, a 1978 fantasy film features a mysterious character named "Jennie Haniver".
- Peter Dance, Animal Fakes and Frauds
- "The Zymoglyphic Museum Curator's Web Log: Notes from the Museum's Mermaid Tank". www.zymoglyphic.org. Retrieved 28 August 2010.
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