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Numismatics in the World’s Columbian Exposition
400 years after Columbus landed in the New World, the Columbus World’s Fair became America’s most defining moment for the next few years. May 1, 1893 marked the beginning of this momentous date in history. The Expo covers more than 600 acres in Chicago’s beautiful Jackson Park, which features more than 200 iconic buildings, bridges and lagoons. The sheer size of the expo far surpasses all other world fairs, further evidence of American exceptionalism. Additionally, the exposition demonstrates that Chicago has emerged from the ashes of the Great Chicago Fire, which destroyed four square miles of Chicago in 1871 and claimed hundreds of lives.
The Columbian World Exposition lasted six months from May 1, 1893 to October 30, 1893. During the fair, more than 27 million people from all over the world attended the exhibition. These are the people who come to experience the largest, most technologically advanced, and future-shaping World’s Fair. Throughout the expo, attendees experienced many firsts, including the very first Ferris wheel. The Ferris wheel is 264 feet long and can hold 2,000 people on a single turn. In addition to experiencing the first Ferris wheel, Americans will also experience the different cultures of more than 36 different countries around the world, including Japan and Egypt.
The World Columbian Exposition had a huge impact on the world. It inspired great inventors and paved the way for the way we live today. From a numismatic standpoint, the World’s Columbian Exposition created numismatic objects that are still heavily collected today.
In honor of Christopher Columbus, the World Columbia Board of Directors has decided to issue a commemorative half dollar coin minted by the United States Mint. A New York Times article of July 10, 1892 discusses a proposed bill before the Senate to mint the world’s Columbian Exposition commemorative half dollar. The bill proposes that “these coins shall be of the same weight and fineness and in all other respects of the same quality as the silver half dollars now recognized by law.” The bill outlines that the U.S. Treasury will provide $5,000,000 to mint souvenir half way of the dollar. The coins will be sold for $1 each and will raise $10,000,000. There are many people who are against creating so many coins. Senator Sherman of Ohio stated that “a large number of souvenir half dollars would destroy their value as souvenirs.” In response to Senator Sherman’s response, Senator Alison of Iowa stated, “They Not only will it be a memento for today and this generation, but it will be passed on from the 65 million people who live in the U.S. now to the 200 million people who live in the U.S. now. Will live here in the future. Children will cry for them, old people will demand them .They will be withdrawn from circulation and thrown into a state of harmless disuse.”
Once the bill was passed, coin design began. The coin has a portrait of Christopher Columbus. In a New York Times article dated August 23, 1892, the United States Mint expressed how inconvenient it was to discover the correct likeness of Christopher Columbus. The Mint intended to use a portrait of a painter named Soto, but the portrait did not match the accepted facial features of Columbus. The problem of finding the ideal likeness was solved when the Washington Mint transferred Focilion’s etchings from Columbus in Suardo. The portrait of Columbus was copied from an original painting owned by Paolo Giovio. The portrait, which hung on the wall of Giovio’s home during Columbus’ lifetime, has long been considered the true original because the two were good friends. Minted over 2.5 million coin samples for the World’s Columbian Exposition. Although many were sold at the fair, many remained unsold and circulated at face value. Today, the Columbia half dollar has a solid reputation as the oldest American commemorative half dollar, and a surprising number are still in pristine condition.
Women in the 19th century were not valued as much as they are today. The mentality of many in the late 19th century was that the woman’s place was in the home. In 1890, a woman by the name of Bertha Honoré Palmer was elected as president to the Board of Lady Managers at the World’s Columbian Exposition. Palmer traveled the country, arousing interest in the exposition. She was contracted a spot at the Columbus World’s Fair to build the Women’s Building designed by a female architect. Palmer came up with the idea of selling women’s coins during the fair. In keeping with the feminine theme, Palmer insisted on a portrait of Queen Isabella of Spain for the coin. Queen Isabella, who once sponsored Columbus, is partly responsible for his historic contribution to the discovery of the New World. Again in keeping with the feminine theme, Palmer chose a New York artist named Caroline Peddle to design this season. Peddle was a student of Augustus St. Gaudens, famous designer of the $20 Double Eagle coin. The move to choose an independent artist insults Charles Barber, chief engraver at the U.S. Mint. Barber would not approve a commemorative coin featuring Pedle as the artist. Seeing no other options, Palmer allowed Barber to choose an artist to design the coin. An artist named Kenyon Cox was chosen. Cox painted many of the murals for the fair, as well as the sketch for the bust of Queen Isabella himself. Palmer raised enough money to buy 40,000 commemorative quarters. June 13, 1893 marked the inauguration of 40,000 souvenir coins at the Philadelphia Mint. A New York Times article of June 14, 1893 stated: “The design of the coin surpasses the Colombian half dollar in aesthetics. The obverse represents the head of Queen Isabella of Spain wearing the Crown of Castile; It’s a woman kneeling next to a pole.” Souvenir quarters are sold at the Women’s Building for $1.00. Of the original 40,000 coins minted, only 24,191 were sold, with the remaining 15,809 being returned to the mint and melted down. The Isabella Memorial will forever be remembered for the role women played during the World’s Columbian Exposition.
The World’s Columbian Exposition is a life-changing experience for all attendees. Exposition tickets went on sale April 1, 1892 at hotels throughout Chicago. Thousands of customers who wanted to keep their tickets as souvenirs or give them to friends lined up at various Chicago hotels. A New York Times article of April 2, 1893 states, “In addition to the tickets sold at the hotel, Treasurer Seeberger received a large number of orders from commercial establishments who wished to send them to customers in the country. The orders had been Archives total over $300,000 from this source alone.”
Tickets are as amazing as the fair itself. Six different tickets were used, each bearing the faces of important figures in history. The first four are general admission tickets and feature vignette portraits of American Indians, Christopher Columbus, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln, each allegorically representing a different era in American history. The last two, which were printed in much smaller numbers than regular tickets, feature the faces of inventor Benjamin Franklin and composer Georg Friedrich Handel. Franklin tickets have “FREE” printed on the front and are sent to businesses sponsoring the show as gifts to their best customers. Benjamin Franklin was chosen to be the face of this ticket because of his experiments with electricity, one of the most important and dramatic innovations introduced at the fair. The ‘Music’ ticket is the rarest and features an engraving of the 18th-century composer Handel for entry to musical performances. Handel’s “Water Music” and “Royal Fireworks Music” were performed at the exposition. It’s fitting that Handel’s face appears on tickets to the fair, which showcased its latest electric fountains and a giant firework display with his creations playing in the background.
Tickets for the fair are printed by the New York Bank Note Company. Col. Porter, an employee of the New York Bank Note Company, is honored for designing the tickets for the World’s Columbian Exposition. A New York Times article of April 2, 1893 described World’s Fair tickets “these tickets were in four different designs, about 4 inches long and 2.5 inches wide, on paper of a very fine texture, light gray. Each series The backs of the tickets vary in color, using the colors brown, red, green and blue, opposite these pretty vignettes in the lower right corner of the ticket, and read: World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago. May 1-10, 1893 Accepting holders through April 30.” Beautifully printed, each ticket is a true work of art. These tickets not only have distinctive features, but also have top-notch anti-counterfeiting measures. “An important safeguard that companies rely on to prevent counterfeiting of these tickets is the use of color and delicate tones and intricate engraving, which would make it impossible for people to photograph the tickets.”
Although the World’s Columbian Exposition lasted only six months, the innovations showcased throughout the expo have dramatically changed the way we live today. The exposition presented the world with some of the most esoteric numismatic material ever created. From the Columbia half dollar and Isabella quarter, America’s first commemorative coin, to the cleverly designed admission ticket that showcased the first innovations in anti-counterfeiting, the 1893 Columbian World’s Fair changed the world as we know it .
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