One of the Largest World’s Columbian Exposition Collections Will Be Sold in 2019

As is embarrassingly obvious, I have been buried and not posting material to the blog as I should. It’s not for a lack of material. I have stacks of notes and half-written articles that I think will be of interest. The following text is verbatim from a news release I sent out On March 6. I’ll leave it to you to read before I comment further:

 

“One of the largest and most historically significant collections of World’s Columbian Exposition memorabilia will be coming to market this year.

“The collection was the decades-long love affair of John Kennel with the 1893 exposition. Kennel, who passed away four years ago, became interested in the fair as much as an amateur historian as a collector. From the 1970s through the new millennium, Kennel studied and collected such Columbian categories as tickets, medals, spoons, brochures, literature, books and more.

“Kennel’s widow, Heike, worked beside him for years buying and selling, and recently decided it was time to sell the mammoth collection now, emphasizing its history more than just its incredible value .“It’s important to me to acknowledge John’s serious interest in the history of the fair, ”Heike said. The revenue from the sales throughout the year will outstrip most any other Columbian sales that have taken place over the years.

“Heike selected The History Bank and its managing partner, Norman Bolotin, to catalog and sell the collection. The Kennels did business with Bolotin over several decades and John was a mentor to Bolotin in his early years studying the world’s fair.

“Bolotin and his business partner/spouse, Christine Laing, have made the world’s fair one of their major endeavors for four decades. They have written two books about the fair. Their 1993 hardcover and limited edition books were commissioned for the centennial of the fair by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Their 2017 book is a history of the Midway Plaisance and was nearly ten years in the making. Both books are now available in softcover from the University of Illinois Press. The History Bank also manages an online website/store for sales such as this and also writes a Columbian blog, worldscolumbianjournal.com.

Bolotin began the arduous task of inventorying the Kennel collection in January and it is now only a fraction complete. “As large as I assumed the collection to be, it’s even more so,” he said. “We will probably sell many items direct to clients (and I hope to museums as well), while offering items for sale by category in our online store. I’m sure the size of the collection will require our devoting substantial effort through the entire year.”

“First to be logged and appraised was the ticket portion of the collection of some 300 items—including more than 20 previously unrecorded, unique tickets and passes. Bolotin noted that “The History Bank sold two excellent Columbian ticket collections recently, fetching more $19,000 and $29,000, and the Kennel tickets should easily outdistance those sales.

“Bolotin can be reached at norm@thehistorybank.com or 425-481-8818. When the inventorying is completed in April, The History Bank will publish a catalog detailing every item/lot in the collection, including information on rarity and a range of appraised market value. The items will be priced for sale based on those appraised values and other considerations.

“To obtain a catalog and information on the various aspects of the collection, contact Bolotin at The History Bank’s office in Woodinville, WA. Bolotin has also said that when the project is complete he hopes to publish a full-length book (including all prices realized), with a tentative title of ‘The History of the World’s Columbian Exposition Through the John Kennel Collection.'”

Every day I become more immersed in this project and having been in this business 45 years and having developed and published more than 200 books and catalogs, I generally don’t get overwhelmed by the magnitude of the project. But the Kennel collection is a doorway not only for collectors, but for historians as well. John was interested in how tickets and 3D items helped mold the story of the World’s Columbian Exposition. I’m sure he was happy to have items with important monetary value, but I never heard him speak of an item’s dollar value.

In 2008 when I sold my ticket collection via Heritage Auctions, it was one of the largest Columbian ticket collections sold at a public sale. It grossed a shade under $40,000. Obviously the revenue was important to me, but so was the story imbedded in the various tickets. John Kennel contacted me when the sale was ongoing sounding a bit surprised, “I thought I had the only Oriental Odeon ticket that existed.” He was surprised to see that I had one in my collection and I didn’t know any others existed. I also had several unique one-of-a-kind tickets, the most enigmatic of which was the “Tree of Wonder, Camera Obscura” ticket. Just that title is enough to confuse anyone. This was thev first of its kind ever seen and it turned out that the Camera Obscura concession on the Midway never opened. How did someone get a ticket? It probably was in 1892 when concessions were under construction and the fair permitted concessions to sell tickets to advance visitors without having to log the information and pay a commission to the fair. My guess is Camera Obscura was a half-constructed storefront everso briefly.

While I had numerous high quality tickets, what I have found over the years is that many smaller collections (including some we’ve sold) have had 6-8-10 unknown tickets. The Kennel collection will probably have at least TWENTY previously unknown tickets (actually, most of which are passes, rather than tickets, per se).

I will have the rest of the collection (I’ve only 90% of the ticketss to work with thus far) the first week of April. Two of us will be flying to Ohio and loading the collection into a very roomy rental car–to drive 2,500 miles back to Woodinville where I will be logging and appraising every item. It’s a daunting and exciting project. John Kennel was a real collector’s collector. He obtained items for their quality and history and now I’ll have the opportunity to take them to the collecting public. I would like to see several Midwest museums consider adding to their Columbian collection as well. If any of you have connections to regional or historical museums in and around Chicago, I wouldl very much like the names of curators we could contact.

If you have questions–how could you not?–please let me know. And remember that The History Bank is not an auction house or a traditional sales venue. I intend to update catalogs periodically, to accept offers to purchase and to list fixed-price sales in our online store. When I have appraised items it will be based on historical prices realized, rarity and condition and I will provide a price range–$400-$700 for example–and will be happy to entertain offers throughout the process. I assume that the size of this collection will keep me more than busy for the rest of 2019.  –Norm Bolotin

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