The World’s Fair | A History

The World’s Fair is a large public exhibition embedded in rich cultural tradition.  Originating in Paris with the industrial revolution, these grand expositions soon spread to continental Europe and the United Kingdom before making their mark across the world.  The grandfather fair, reverently referred to as the “Great Exhibition” was Prince Albert’s proposal to model regionally manufactured products in order to induce international trade and relations, buoy tourism and propagate art and design education.  The structure and ideology of this 1851 fair offered a clear precedent for the World’s Fair and it has continued to attract millions world-wide today.  The 2015 World’s Fair is being held in Milan, Italy.


While culture sharing has always been and remains vital, the development of the World’s Fair can be distinguished in three Eras of characteristic evolution: Industrialization, Cultural Exchange and Nation Branding.

The Industrial Era, which lasted roughly from 1800 to 1938 focused heavily on trade and boasted technological inventions and industrial design in a rapidly advancing technological world.  Modern technologies were brought together from all over the world marking momentous occasions in historical information sharing.  Expositions such as the Philadelphia 1876 Centennial Exhibition with the debut of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone and Chicago 1893 Fair presenting the early dishwasher became landmarks of advancement, procuring a progressive image of the World’s Fair.

During the Era of Cultural Exchange, beginning with New York’s 1939 World Fair, themed “Building a Better Tomorrow”, expositions took on diverging cultural themes, anticipating a bright future.  The focus of fairs became less about specific technologies and more about intercultural communication for the exchange and growth of innovation.  As cultural recognition and societal strength became of greater importance, the Era of Nation Branding began.

Countries began to use the World’s Fair as a platform to strengthen their national images through branding and architecture.  Great pavilions were erected and stand today as representations of great nations such as Japan, Canada, Finland and Spain.  Stunning architecture and nation branding required solid financial investment and thus, several nations shied away from hosting Expositions, fearing that the cost would outweigh the benefits.  The 2000 Dutch Exposition pavilion cost an approximate €35 million, but is thought to have brought in €350 million in turn for a thriving Dutch economy.

The World’s Fair has seen much evolution over the course of two hundred years and today embodies the characteristic of all three Eras.  Each fair presents the newest technologies including art and architecture while fostering cultural networking and bolstering a reputably positive national image. One of the few lasting, globally impacting traditions of our Earth, the World’s Fair is a magnificent opportunity for individuals, communities, cultures and societies to reach out as a part of an ever-evolving humanity.

The Rare Mauritius “Post Office” Stamp

Among the rarest stamps in the world, the Mauritius “Post Office” stamps have some of the most rumor surrounding them.

Mauritius, a small island in the Indian Ocean, has made a name for itself in the world of philately. And this name started with the “Post Office” stamp of 1847.

The orange-red one penny stamp.

The orange-red one penny stamp.

It all starts with a stowaway on a ship. At age 22, a man named Joseph Osmond Barnard left his home in England and stowed away on the ship Acasta to Mauritius.

Barnard had luck on his side – he was allowed to disembark and live in the capital. As it so happened, Barnard specialized as an engraver and painter.

Barnard designed the stamps for Mauritius based on the Great Britain stamps at the time that showed the profile of Queen Victoria. They printed the stamps in two colors of one penny red brown and two pence blue. They are characterized by their primitive design.

Postage stamps were still very new at the time.

The printer made five hundred stamps of each value, printed in 1847. The wife of the Governor of Mauritius used many of them on invitations for a ball.

A set of two cancelled Post Office stamps, with the penny red brown and the two pence blue.

A set of two cancelled Post Office stamps, with the orange one penny and the two pence blue.

These stamps had the words “Post Office” printed on the left side. On the next printing, however, “Post Paid” replaced the phrase, making the stamps with “Post Office” rarities.

One particular legend says that using “Post Office” on the stamps had originally been a mistake. The book Les Timbres-Poste de L’Ile Maurice claims the mistake, and rumors surrounding the tale expanded to say that Barnard was a half-blind watchmaker and a forgetful old man who forgot what he was supposed to print on the stamps.

The two pence blue stamp.

The two pence blue stamp.

Anyone who pays attention knows that this can’t be true, since Barnard designed the stamps at 31 years old.

In 1864 the wife of a Bordeaux merchant found some of the stamps in her husband’s collection. She traded them with another collector, starting the ball rolling on the fame of these increasingly sought-after stamps.

In 1904 King George V paid roughly today’s equivalent of $190,000 for an unused two pence Mauritius stamp. And in 1993 a cover with two of the stamps sold for about $4 million, the highest price ever paid for a philatelic item.



Engraved memory


Barber Coinage, Or, The Coin Contest Fail

In the 19th century, a seated Liberty featured on most U.S. silver coins. As the design looked rather English to many Americans, and as artistic tastes changed, as time went on more and more people began to object to it.

In a scathing commentary, a magazine called The Galaxy wrote about the silver coins in 1876:
“Why is it we have the ugliest money of all civilized nations? The design is poor, commonplace, tasteless, characterless, and the execution is like thereunto…That young woman sitting on nothing in particular, wearing nothing to speak of, looking over her shoulder at nothing imaginable, and bearing in her left hand something that looks like a broomstick with a woolen nightcap on it—what is she doing there?”

The Seated Liberty coin.

An 1837 Seated Liberty coin.

In 1890 President Benjamin Harrison signed to make all U.S. coins open for redesign, after which they would be altered 25 years later, to be repeated every 25 years.

Charles Barber, the chief engraver of U.S. coins, suggested a contest for new designs where artists would submit low-relief models as entries. The Mint director Edward Leech enthusiastically agreed, and the contest was in motion. Anyone could enter, but Leech made sure to specifically invite ten hand-picked artists to enter. The winner would receive $500, with no offers for any of the runner-ups.

One would expect a happy result – but the contest ended up as a failure. Out of the hundreds of entries, the jury rejected all of them, with only two designs receiving an honorable mention.

Leech commented on the results: “It is not likely that another competition will ever be tried for the production of designs for United States coins. The one just ended was too wretched a failure …


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“The result is not very flattering to the boasted artistic development of this country, inasmuch as only two of the three hundred suggestions submitted were good enough to receive honorable mention.”

Following that epic fail, Barber himself designed new coins. However, in his first attempt he disregarded the Mint director’s instructions. On his second try, Leech asked for further changes. Barber complained abut the constant demands for changes, and finally Leech chose not to extend further design requests but only communicated one more concern, sending Barber an olive branch from the National Botanical Garden as a design reference.

A number of problems continued to occur; Leech had second thoughts about a design with clouds over an eagle; two more versions had to be made; the words “Liberty” and “E Pluribus Unum” were emboldened but still wore away in circulation.

The coins were finally struck on January 2, 1892, and the disliked Seated Liberty was no more. After a complicated design battle the U.S. finally had its new coins.