Seattle’s Architectural Icon

The Stamp & Coin Place finds its home in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. The Pacific Northwest is often known for its rain, coffee, trees, and Seattle! We thought it would be fun to learn more about the architectural icon of Seattle; the Space Needle.

The Space Needle is an observation tower with a restaurant; it was built in the Seattle Center for the 1962 World’s Fair, which drew over 2.3 million visitors, when nearly 20,000 people a day used its elevators. Once the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River, it is 605 ft (184 m) high, 138 ft (42 m) wide, and weighs 9,550 short tons (8,660 tonnes). It is built to withstand winds of up to 200 mph (320 km/h) and earthquakes of up to 9.1 magnitude, as strong as the 1700 Cascadia earthquake. It also has 25 lightning rods.

The Space Needle has an observation deck at 520 ft (160 m) and the rotating SkyCity restaurant at 500 ft (150 m). The downtown Seattle skyline, as well as the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, Elliott Bay and surrounding islands can be viewed from the top of the Needle. Photographs of the Seattle skyline often show the Space Needle prominently, above skyscrapers and Mount Rainier.

Visitors can reach the top of the Space Needle by elevators that travel at 10 mph (16 km/h). The trip takes 41 seconds. On windy days, the elevators slow to 5 mph (8.0 km/h). On April 19, 1999, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Board designated it a historic landmark.

The creation of the Space Needle began in 1959, when Seattle hotel executive Edward E. Carlson, who was a chief organizer of the 1962 World’s Fair, traveled to Stuttgart Germany where he was inspired by a broadcast tower featuring a restaurant. He doodled an idea of a dominant central structure for the fair on a napkin in a hotel café convinced that such a tower could make a permanent center-piece for the fair and an enduring symbol for Seattle. He called it a “Space Needle.”

Carlson and his supporters soon found moving the symbol from doodle to the drawing

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The Space Needle under construction – November 1961

board, and then to the construction phase, was far from easy. The first obstacle was the structure’s final design. Carlson’s initial sketch underwent many transformations, including designs that resembled a landed UFO, a tethered balloon and even a cocktail shaker with a tram ferrying visitors to the top.

Architect John “Jack” Graham, Jr. fresh from his success in designing the world’s first auto-centric shopping mall (Seattle’s Northgate) and experimenting with a revolving bar in Hawaii, focused on a flying saucer-shaped top house. Graham’s team worked on sketches and ideas before a final design was reached just a year and a half before the World’s Fair. Architect Victor Steinbrueck came up with the wasp-waisted tower shape based on an abstract sculpture of a dancer called “The Feminine One.”

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The Space Needle at the World’s Fair

With time an issue, the construction team worked around the clock. The domed top, housing the top five levels (including the restaurants and observation deck), was perfectly balanced so that the restaurant could rotate with the help of one tiny electric motor, originally 0.8 kilowatts (1.1 hp), later replaced with a 1.1 kilowatts (1.5 hp) motor. With paint colors named Orbital Olive for the body, Astronaut White for the legs, Re-entry Red for the saucer, and Galaxy Gold for the roof, the Space Needle was finished in less than one year. It was completed in April 1962 at a cost of $4.5 million. The last elevator car was installed the day before the Fair opened on April 21.

Since the World’s Fair the Space Needle has appeared in several popular media forms and undergone many changes. In 1974, author Stephen Cosgrove’s children’s book Wheedle on the Needle imagined a furry creature called a Wheedle who lived on top of the Space Needle and caused its light to flash. Its closing quatrain is: There’s a Wheedle on the Needle / I know just what you’re thinking / But if you look up late at night / You’ll see his red nose blinking. The Wheedle has since become a fixture of Seattle. It even became the mascot of the Seattle SuperSonics National Basketball Association (NBA) franchise, who played in nearby KeyArena.

In 1982, the SkyLine level was added at the height of 100 ft (30 m). While this level had been part of the original plans for the Space Needle, it was not built until this time. Today, the SkyLine Banquet Facility can accommodate groups of 20–360 people. Renovations were completed in 2000 at a cost ($21 million) approximately the same in inflated dollars as the original construction price. Renovations between 1999 and 2000 included the SkyCity restaurant, SpaceBase retail store, Skybeam installation, Observation Deck overhaul, lighting additions and repainting.

Every year on New Year’s Eve, the Space Needle celebrates with a fireworks show at midnight that is synchronized to music. The fireworks artist Alberto Navarro from Bellevue, designed the show for 20 years, since its inception in 1994.

As part of the celebration of its 50th anniversary, the Needle was painted “Galaxy Gold” in April 2012, the same color used when the needle was originally constructed for the 1962 World’s Fair. This temporary makeover, intended to last through the summer, is not the Needle’s first: it had the University of Washington (UW) Huskies football team logo painted after the team won the 1992 Rose Bowl, appeared as a giant “Wheel of Fortune” in 1995, was painted crimson after Washington State won the Apple Cup, and has been seen in Seattle SuperSonics colors.

Most recently, a renovation of the top of the Space Needle began in the summer of 2017,

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The Space Needle during the 2017-2018 renovation

to add an all-glass floor to the restaurant, and replace the observation platform windows with unbroken floor-to-ceiling glass panels unobstructed by mullions to more closely match the 1962 original concept sketches, as well as upgrades and updates to the internal systems. Called the Century Project, the work was finished in June of 2018, at a cost of $100 million in private funds. The rotating restaurant’s motor has been replaced, the elevator capacity has been increased by adding elevators, or double-stacking them, and the energy efficiency of the building has been improved with the aim of achieving LEED Silver Certification.

The Space Needle has always been a source of pride for locals, the architecture is iconic to the Seattle skyline. The Space Needle served to give the city recognition and notoriety when it first debuted at the World’s Fair. If you ever get the chance to visit, seeing the Space Needle is an incredible experience.

Trade Tokens and Forgotten History

 

 

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Have you ever looked at historical photos of your town and wondered what life was like back then? Photos are only part of the story of any town: trade tokens are an often overlooked part of local history in many places. Trade tokens from our town of Bellingham, Washington, also have a story to tell.

 

 

Tokens are technically exonumia: coin-like objects that are not truly coins. Tokens were usually locally produced, and intended for use in local businesses, which usually had their names stamped into the token itself.  (Until the federal government took over all bill printing, local banks also issued notes, as seen in this $20 note from the First National Bank of Bellingham.)

 

 

s-l1600 (2)Bellingham in the early 1900s was no different. Many downtown businesses had trade tokens, usually in the amount of 5 cents, produced and distributed to drive business. Local tobacconist J. M. Stinnett, described in a 1918 issue of the United States Tobacco Journal as a “live wire from that northern town,” was one of several tobacco and cigar store owners to issue such tokens. His store was at 114 West Holly St, where Opus Performing Arts is today.

 

 

In the latter half of the second decade of the 20th century, 5 cents had the equivalent worth of 87 cents today, though its buying power was higher. Many drugstores would sell ice cream cones or sodas for 5 cents, and it would make it worth a customer’s while to stop by a store she had a token for.

 

 

Though none of these old-time Bellingham businesses are still in operation, it’s easy to see how little the town has changed, in some ways. Many of the businesses listed were on Holly Street, still one of the main commercial parts of town. Bellingham still has a strong focus on local business as opposed to national chains, and tours of the historical downtown areas are a popular attraction.

 

 

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Coins and tokens hold onto a specific kind of history that might otherwise be lost. The establishments may be long gone, but as long as the tokens survive, places like the Blue Moon, the Gold Nugget, and the Alaska Tavern will live on.

 

 

This set of Bellingham trade tokens is currently for sale in our Etsy store, as is the banknote.

Don’t Take Any Wooden Nickels

Wooden Nickels first made their debut in the 1930’s, mostly in the State of Washington, as a response to the need for currency during the Depression.  When banks started failing, cities turned to other forms of currency to keep trade alive.

One thing that kept trade going, temporarily, in cities like Tenino and Blaine, Washington (see our previous blog), were wood nickels.  Made from pressed wood, merchants entered into agreement with the city’s chamber of commerce and began accepting wooden nickels instead of paper money for goods.

In order for this idea to work, shoppers had to trust that all merchants would accept the wooden nickels they received from the city.  Merchants had to trust that the city would take the wood nickels back in exchange for real money or gold.  Overall, the idea was not completely successful.  Most wooden nickels came with an expiration date, meaning you were out of luck if you had one past that date.  It was also quite common for people, particularly visitors to the area, to simply keep them as souvenirs.

Once the immediate need had passed, wood was outlawed as currency.  Banks, stores and other merchants still issued wooden nickels as souvenirs or for promotion, but they were essentially worthless beyond that.   Out of this arrangement was born the phrase, “Don’t take any wooden Nickels.”

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Commonly used as a warning, “Don’t take any wooden nickels” meant not to get taken advantage of.  To be careful.   For example, “Have a great trip, and don’t take any wooden nickels.”  It was especially common to hear this phrase if you were heading into the city.

Today, we don’t really hear this phrase too often, except maybe from the mouths of our grandparents.  Although people no longer try to slip a wooden nickel in with our change, the warning behind the words is just as important!

When Money was Made of Wood

In the 1930’s, our country was smack dab in the middle of a huge depression.  Banks were failing, factories closed and people stopped spending.  All of these things meant very little money was in circulation.  Many cities in our lovely State of Washington had an interesting response; Wooden Nickels.

In 1933, the bank in Tenino, Washington failed and closed its doors.  Suddenly, merchants from around the area had no way of cashing checks or getting change without traveling to a different city.  Today, this might not seem like the end of the world, but in the 30’s, this meant traveling up to 30 miles through rugged terrain.  What cars they had were not made to handle the mountain roads in this area, meaning a trip to the bank took around 4 hours.  Most merchants could not leave their stores for this long, or they would risk losing what little business they had.

One thing that Washington State did not have a shortage of was trees.  A man named Albert Balch, of Blaine, Washington, had been going around promoting a new printing product, called slicewood. Produced in Aberdeen, WA, this thin, pressed wood was made out of Sitka Spruce, Port Orford and Red Cedar.  It was rolled out into flat sheets that measured 1/80th of an inch.  Balch had intended for this product to be used for printing Christmas cards (see above), but in light of the circumstances, thought it might be great for printing emergency money. The Chamber of Commerce in Tenino agreed and wooden money was issued as legal tender. It was backed by non-interest baring warrants, mostly in denominations of 25 cents. Pieces worth $10, $5, $1 and 50 cent pieces were also available.  Merchants could redeem them for US currency or gold.

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When the same need arose in Balch’s hometown of Blaine, Washington, a similar idea was adopted.  This time, the wood was rolled out and cut into circles to more closely resemble coins. On one side was an image of the Peace Arch Monument and the words, “Acceptable at par for MDSE. 1933.”  The other side said, “Peace Arch, Wooden 5¢ Nickel, Blaine, Wash.” These wooden nickels put Blaine on the map.  Some were even sent to President Roosevelt where they eventually made the national news.

A few years later, after the depression, wood was outlawed as a form of currency.  Merchants continued to issue wooden nickels for things like promotions, advertising and souvenirs.

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Today, Wooden Nickels from Blaine are worth a bit more than their denomination might tell you.  On Ebay, depression era wooden script sells for between $20-$30, making them a relatively affordable thing to collect.  Although you can not cash them in at your local store, they do carry the history of a very tough time in American history and the story one town’s unique solution to an overwhelming problem.

All About Half Dimes

Before the invention of the nickel, the half dime was a lovely little coin that has now worked its way into some pretty impressive collections over the last hundred years.  With a limited production history and few variations, a well minted half dime is a collector’s dream.

Generally holding the same appearance and designs as larger United States silver coins, the half dime is immediately distinguishable by its small stature.  Originally 20.8 grains and .8924 fineness, the half dime is one of the smallest U.S. silver coins ever to be minted.  They appear to be half of a dime, and so the term for these 5 cent denominates was coined – no pun intended.

The half dime is a unique collectible in that some numismatists consider it to be the first coin minted under the United States Coinage Act of 1792.  The act officially minted currency as legal tender and implemented the decimal system for U.S. currency.  Others argue that it is no more than a pattern coin for testing a system in works.

With the authorization of production in July of 1792, a test piece known as the disme was in circulation the year before the first United States Mint actually opened for business.  Because the facilities were not yet made available, the first half dismes were struck in local craftsman, John Harper’s cellar with the oversight of official mint personnel.  Taking advantage of the limited quantity of available silver, it is rumored that President Washington donated his own household silverware!  In his fourth annual address on November 6, 1792, he stated: “There has been a small beginning in the coinage of half dimes: the want of small coins in circulation calling the first attention to them.”  The half disme would forbear a long-standing history of U.S. coinage as a pattern piece for the half dime.  In 1795, the first official half dime was struck, though some were mint-marked 1794.  From then on, the coins were produced with great expedition and haste.

Over the course of eighty-one years thousands of half dimes were produced.  Most have been heavily circulated.  In 2006, a single PCGS MS67 half dime sold at auction for $1,322,500.  Their value is largely attributed to their historical significance and scarcity.

Image By DavidLawrence.com

Image By DavidLawrence.com

Various developmental designs of the half dime include the Early Half Dime Flowing Hair Pattern (1792), the Draped Bust Half Dime (1996-1797), the Capped Bust Half Dime (1829-1837) and the Seated Liberty Half Dime (1837-1873).  You’ll notice that none of these specimens portray images of presidents, as George Washington insisted the rejection of monarchical imagery, opting for visions of liberty.

As a tangible token from the beginnings of America, it’s no wonder the half dime is so highly valued.  Though your chances of finding one of these by luck are next to none, you can find them in exchange between passionate collectors.  The Stamp & Coin place is home to the world’s finest assembled Seated Liberty 1858-1873 Proof Half Dime collection.  You can view some of our half dimes for sale on  ebay.

The 1909 Seattle Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition

See the amazing, fantastic Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition through vintage postcards!

The Pacific Northwest has its own reasons to show off, and the 1909 Seattle Exposition gave the perfect opportunity. It’s mouthful of a name, so Alaska-Yukon-Pacific is often simply shortened to A-Y-P.

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The Secretary of the Arctic Brotherhood, Godfrey Chealander, pitched the idea for an Alaska exhibit in Seattle. Soon, the idea escalated into an exhibition pitch, piggy-backing off of the recent Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland, Oregon.

In 1905, Seattle’s University of Washington had only three buildings surrounded by forest. Planners proposed to build the exposition on the campus, which would also do the university a favor.

Unlike many other world expositions, everything was ready by the fair’s June opening, with minimal scrambling to finish things at the last minute.

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Japanese and Canadian buildings supported the fair’s Pacific theme, and local buildings or symbols, like a model of a Washington state coal mine, stood as representations of the Northwest.

On “Seattle Day”, the fair had its highest attendance rate. Some called the exposition the “World’s Most Beautiful Fair.”

The fair was largely successful, but did have one major controversy. “Human Exhibits” were more popular back then, but the A-Y-P really took the cake: the fair set up a month-old orphan boy named Ernest as a raffle prize. However, no one came to claim him, and no records show what happened to him.

In the end, the A-Y-P was a big success. It didn’t even need financial assistance from the government, thanks to clever marketing and publicity.

Looking for vintage World Fair postcards? Look no further.

It Costs an Arm and a Leg

According to this common idiom, anything that costs “an arm and a leg” is very expensive.

Many claim to know where the phrase “an arm and a leg” came from. But what is the actual source of this strange idiom?

One incorrect source, part of a popular email titled “Little History Lesson” that spread like wildfire in 2000, claimed that something costing “an arm and a leg” comes from the days of George Washington. Some paintings, the email said, show Washington with an arm behind his back, and other paintings show all his limbs. The painters purportedly charged by the number of limbs in the painting.

But this story is false. While painters might charge for extra details or larger paintings, there is no evidence to suggest a per-limb fee.

The phrase only really shows up after WWII – way after Washington’s time. The earliest known source that phrases.org finds is from The Long Beach Independent in 1949: “Food Editor Beulah Karney has more than 10 ideas for the homemaker who wants to say ‘Merry Christmas’ and not have it cost her an arm and a leg.”

As part of the cost of WWII, many soldiers had lost limbs during the war. Perhaps these amputations created a dark influence over the English language.

Most likely, however, is the combination of two previous phrases from the 19th century: “I would give my right arm” and “If it takes a leg”.

Early 1900’s Shipwreck Postcards

These real photo postcards from the 1900’s and 1910’s show remarkable shots of shipwrecks in Alaska and Washington. Each card has a story behind it.

The above photo shows the shipwreck of the Princess May in 1910. It ran aground near Sentinel Island during high tide, and the ship’s momentum brought it up onto the rocks. This led to the famous photograph as illustrated above. The captain had to improvise an electrical connection with the engine room’s telegraph battery to send out a distress call, all while the engine room was being flooded. Since the island was so close, the passengers and crew safely evacuated to land. If you’re interested in the postcard, you can buy it here.

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The Guard wreck postcard, for sale here.

Another impressive wreck ending on top of some rocks: the Revenue Cutter Guard hit a rock in a channel between Woody and Lopez Islands in Washington state. Again thanks to the help of a high tide, the ship found itself on the rocks, leaning to one side. The channel is reportedly one of the narrowest and most dangerous near the islands.

The Jabez Howes wreck

The Jabez Howes was a salmon cannery ship. An April 1911 heavy gale tossed the boat onshore. The crew got off safely, but the ship itself was beyond hope and sank into deep water. However, the Star of Alaska, which was also blown onshore from the same storm, was able to be repaired.

Here are some other, similarly remarkable shipwreck postcards:

Wreck of the Delhi, Sumner Island, Alaska

Wreck of the Delhi, Sumner Island, Alaska

Another view of the wreck of the Delhi.

Another view of the wreck of the Delhi.

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The wreck of the Life Saving Launch “Audacious” near Port Townsend, Washington.

Which postcard is your favorite?

Traveling with Art: Mount Rainier, Washington

Mount Rainier is a familiar Pacific Northwest landmark not too far from Seattle, Washington that is potentially one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world, just waiting to erupt.

We’ve written about a volcano before – the legendary Mount Vesuvius – but for the Washington state readers, here’s one that hits a little closer to home.

The painting you see above is by E. R. Barchus, a true-to-life landscape with beautiful muted, natural colors.

The painting may display a serene facade of the mountain, but underneath the tranquil beauty is a volcano just waiting to erupt.

The main summit, Columbia Crest, is at the center. (via Walter Siegmund, Wikimedia Commons)

The main summit, Columbia Crest, is at the center. (via Walter Siegmund, Wikimedia Commons)

Mount Rainier is the fifth highest mountain in the United States, and the highest mountain in Washington state.

Mount Rainier’s most recent recorded eruption was in 1854. It has been listed as a “Decade Volcano” (as has Mount Vesuvius), meaning that it’s one of the 16 volcanoes most likely to cause great loss of life.

Experts say that if Mount Rainier erupted as powerfully as Mount St. Helens did in 1980, it would have a worse effect because of its large amounts of glacial ice and the more heavily populated areas surrounding it.

Mount Rainier over Tacoma, Washington.

Mount Rainier over Tacoma, Washington.

But Mount Rainier is not just a potential death threat waiting in the background. It’s also a mountain enjoyed by hikers and nature-lovers, as well as a well-known landmark in the Western region of Washington. Thousands of people attempt the climb every year, with about half being successful.

President William McKinley created Mount Rainier National Park in 1899, the fifth established national park at the time. Congress wanted to preserve the area for its natural beauty and “…for the preservation from injury or spoliation of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders within said park.”

Despite being considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world, Rainier has shown no recent signs of awakening.

And it’s a beautiful mountain, to be sure.