51 Different World’s Columbian Day of Sale Tickets Now Identified

Last December (2017) we reported that a new number/letter combination from the World’s Columbian Exposition Day of Sale tickets had been found, a ticket bearing the combination 5/Y. We failed, at that time, to report on the collector who had just acquired that piece, a longtime friend, Keith Demke.

After reviewing our complete list of tickets which we published last June, Keith also reports another previously unknown ticket in his collection, 4/L.

It’s rather remarkable that we now have identified 51 different tickets and one has to wonder how many others were used at the fair. In reviewing our files for nearly two decades of information on this subject to prepare this article, we noticed that two earlier discoveries had somehow gone unreported; we have added those (4/M and 6/M) to our master list of known number/letter combinations.

Harlow Higinbotham explained his logic in using so many different combinations and it was a shock to collectors to discover that long-held assumptions about the tickets were wrong. Higinbotham explained the fair’s approach in his post-exposition final report to his board of directors that random combinations were used to thwart would-be counterfeit attempts. Higinbotham and others in the leadership group of the World’s Columbian Exposition were especially concerned—one might say paranoid—that counterfeiters might discover the day’s ticket information and illicitly sell counterfeit 50-cent admission tickets. Even if they had, the disruption to cashflow from ticket sales that reached 21 million paid admissions hardly could have been significant. But as it was, because of Higinbotham’s vigilance, the forgeries or other entrances without official tickets were virtually non-existent.

The general consensus among collectors which I heard from 1980 forward was that the ticket number probably represented the month of the fair; that made sense when one considered that the combinations only went from 1-to-6 and that the fair was open six months. But that logic failed in a couple of regards, but was still adhered to for years by many. The biggest problem with that theory was the great disparity from number to number when in fact it does NOT coincide with ticket need/attendance by month.

Including the 5/Y and 4/L (and previously discovered 4/M and 6/M) additions, there are 15 known Number 1 combinations; four Number 2; four Number 3; just three Number 4; five number Five; and 12 Number 6. One cannot find any way to correlate that to the months the fair was opened. Also, the collector community theory failed to address the single letter tickets, of which eight are known. But absent any better ideas, that was generally accepted for 35 years, until we discovered and published Higinbotham’s explanation. Just how he or others selected the combinations to use will never be known, but he said it was simply a process of selecting random number/letter combinations and then using them randomly. Consequently, the fact that perhaps the most commonly seen combination is 1/S just means that combination was probably used a bit more than any other. The other bit of deduction in all this that might even contradict our logic in the previous sentence is that tickets were handed to the scores of ticket takers as visitors entered and they were immediately destroyed. Perhaps the tickets in museum and personal collections, the 51 different combinations now known, simply represent the tickets purchased and never used….and the leftover unused tickets that were sold later as souvenirs.

This is all part of that long list of minutiae related to the World’s Columbian Exposition that one can spend endless hours studying and never find the complete answer.

When the first (and thus far only) reference was published about WCE tickets (Doolin, 1980) there were 23 known number/letter combinations. When I sold my ticket collection


We have not been able to quantify Day of Sale tickets extant to provide a statistical rarity, so such categorizing has to come from personal observation. The 6/J ticket shown here, for example, is one of the more scarce tickets. 1/S and 1/L are clearly those we have seen (and that have been reported) most often over the years.

In 2008 we had added 9 more to the total. In the last nearly ten years we have identified another 19 (including the 5/Y and 4/L cited here). Following is a complete list of the 51 known Day of Sale tickets.

Single letters (8): G L, N, R, S*, U, Y, X

Number 1 (15): 1/D*, 1/E, 1/F*, 1/G*, 1/H*, 1/J, 1/K, 1/L*, 1/N*, 1/O*, 1/P*, 1/R*, 1/S*, 1/T, 1/Y*

Number 2 (4): 2/J*, 2/L, 2/M*, 2/X

Number 3 (4): 3/A*, 3/B, 3/G, 3/H*

Number 4 (3): 4/H, 4/L, 4/M

Number 5 (5): 5/R, 5/S*, 5/T*, 5/U*, 5/Y

Number 6 (12): 6/A, 6/B*, 6/C*, 6/G, 6/J, 6/L, 6/M, 6/N, 6/O, 6/P*, 6/R*, 6/S

The 23 combinations published in Doolin’s work in 1980 are noted with an asterisk (*).

Obviously, should any reader know of other details regarding Day of Sale tickets, including letter/number combinations beyond the 51 noted here, we would be very grateful to hear from you. Please contact The World’s Columbian Journal, Norman Bolotin, at norm@thehistorybank.com or phone us at (425) 481-8818.

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