New Columbian Book Targeted for Late 2021 Publication

Included here is a detailed discussion of the publishing process for this book, the John Kennel collection and its vital importance to the book and evaluation of whether this should be a single volume or the beginning of a series of books.

I have progressed enough with my ideas for a next book that I feel marginally comfortable enough to announce it as a “real” forthcoming work in progress, not just an “idea” for future development. Besides the contents of the book, the development process has been quite interesting as well.

As of yet untitled, the working identification inhouse is “the new Columbian rarities book.”

Progressing to the point of targeted research, photo compilation and actual writing (at least for me) usually takes years rather than months. This effort grew out of literally more than a decade of collectors telling me that I should write THE comprehensive book on World’s Columbian tickets. This subject first emerged when I decided to sell my collection of WCE tickets in 2008 at auction with Heritage, the premier collectibles auction site in the world. My collection was small potatoes for the giant firm. Because I had worked with one of the founders of the company and its director of Americana sales for years, the company agreed to sell such a small collection. I am sure its quality and history were of interest, but we all know that most every endeavor in life is linked to its monetary value.

My 300 or so Columbian tickets fetched nearly $40,000 in sales, pretty impressive as far as Columbian tickets go, but not much when compared to Heritage’s typical $5-10 million “small” auctions of coins, art, antiquities and so on. We won’t even consider discussing Heritage’s big bucks events where individual items often sell for millions of dollars. This sale was the catalyst for focusing a great deal of Columbian attention on The History Bank and Norm Bolotin.

I first was introduced to Columbiana in the late 1970s which led to my writing and publishing the comprehensive history of the fair for the National Trust for Historic Preservation to coincide with the centennial of the exposition in 1993. I have spent the bulk of my more than four decades of Columbian involvement studying and expanding my knowledge of both the fair in general and collectibles more specifically. I have actively collected and sold Columbiana for those four decades and along the way built my expertise on the subject. I’ve written articles, given talks, consulted and appraised collections over the years, working with primarily private collectors but also with several major museums. The natural evolution between that first book in 1993 and the second in 2017 included being asked many times to assist collectors with their collections. I also taught (for five summers) a University of Chicago course I developed for publishing and museum professionals. I began accepting collections on consignment around the turn of the century–which seems a very odd reference to the year 2000 after it being such a common phrase attached to the “real” turn of the century a hundred years earlier.

With the publication of the Midway history the University of Illinois Press arranged for me to make appearances both autographing and speaking at bookstores, as well as addressing the University Club of Chicago, an event I was surprised to find out was going to be a sold-out luncheon event. I am quite sure that the crowd was there because of the never waning interest in the World’s Columbian Exposition as opposed to their being excited to hear a “famous” author speak.

The culmination of the publication and many bookstore and other events in Chicago seemed to refocus my energy on the possibility of writing and publishing additional books on the subject, whereas my typical reaction to the publication of a new book was to sit back and enjoy the long-awaited completion and not to think about what might be next. I virtually never geared up for another high-intensity project soon after the publication of a book.

Instead, the completion of the Midway history saw me excited about (trying) to move forward on another book or books and not coincidentally, the 2017 publication also resulted in many people contacting me with questions and ideas. .

Two different collectors asked me to sell ticket collections for them; one was more impressive than the other and included a few tickets I’d never seen before. Shortly after, an old friend contacted me about another collection, this one just a tad larger than the previous two. I had worked with collectors and dealers John and Heike Kennel for many years. In that relationship much of the buying and selling was Heike’s purview, while John and I focused more on discussions of Columbian history and rarities, as well as the exchange of ideas, including the need for new and comprehensive books for collectors. They were both always so pleasant, interesting and collegial. John and I last communicated on Christmas Eve 2013; he passed away in June 2014. I was, like a very wide fraternity of Columbian hobbyists, very saddened to lose such a knowledgeable colleague and quality human being. In reviewing old emails about Columbian topics I recently found a note to myself to contact John for his take on an obcure question about medals. Alas, that discussion never took place. In 2018 Heike had gotten to the point of deciding to sell’s John’s Columbian collection, emotionally not ready to deal with it earlier. I gave her suggestions and we discussed the viability of a couple sellers who were interested, frankly, in skimming off the finest rarities and not handling the rest. One auction house came right out and said that photographing and cataloging a large world’s fair collection simply wouldn’t be profitable, while a very small auction firm was interested only in the rarities.

Then in late 2018, Heike asked if I might be interested in taking on the entire collection and frankly, if I felt I was equipped to do so. Besides being very interested in working with her and such a terrific collection, of course, I had to evaluate the best ways to promote and sell the collection. One of my sons and I flew to Dayton from Seattle in April 2019 to pack and load the collection in a rental vehicle and drive 2,500 miles back to Seattle. The collection was so large that the boxes of books had to be left behind to ship and we needed to set up a virtual staging area to accommodate more than a dozen banker boxes plus odd-sized containers/pieces. As I write this we are 18 months into the project and have worked through perhaps 2/3-3/4 of the collection I estimate consisted of more than 4,000 items. As a historian and a seller, I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with such rarities and also those myriad less expensive items others found burdensome.

The Kennel collection has had a major impact on my thinking and work for this new book. And believing I can do in one book what I initially thought would take two and even a third has been a major leap of faith. To an extent, every book in part writes itself. One hears such things about fiction, but even in a history book or hobby guide we outline the contents and compile the text and photos, but as the book grows it takes on a life of its own and many factors determine the scope and size–and if it can be accomplished, as in this case, in a single volume. If the size, cost and time to create it were not considerations, a single volume would be fine. But spending two or three times the time and money, and ending up with a 500-page book, are not viable options.

So through many iterations, we have come to a working outline. The hope is that it will be possible to utilize much of the Kennel collection, plus my own years of continuing research and building archives of information and photos, and publish a new book that will be a COMPLETE REFERENCE on both Columbian medals (and tokens) and tickets (including passes and invitations).

Doing two separate volumes, one on tickets, one on medals, would be logical, and then we would perhaps add a third volume pulling together a great deal of peripheral facts, figures and essays. Again, time and dollars–and the size (or lack there of) of the market–must dictate the approach and hopes of being able to recoup expenses. Can we accomplish all of our editorial goals in less than 200 pages? We’ll see.

Right now as of October 28, 2020, I would like to share our preliminary plan for this single volume. I’ve wasted no time over many years researching regardless of how the final book or books look. But I very much would like to produce a single book that can accomplish several things for readers/collectors: Provide a comprehensive package on ALL World’s Columbian medals and tickets, with a variety of material beyond just a cataloging of these items.

I will continue working toward the publication of this “Columbian Rarities” new book with the decision to come AFTER I complete many tasks that come before writing. Research is the obvious broad activity that needs to be undertaken (as it has for many years) and to call it an arduous task is an understatement; completing the research is what counts.

I have been working through our own archives and research/reference files–including photographs–quite pragmatically since deciding to write a book or books. I built these files going back to the publication of our history of the fair published in 1993. I would like to claim that the files are immaculate and constructed and maintained as any library might be. That would have meant solid full-time work from the beginning. I have, in the course of working, studying and writing, put documents, notes and photos into general files. For example, we have files by client and major projects, and have always attempted to be diligent in maintaing the integrity of those files while also filing background information and photos leading to a sale in the appropriate main file.

The major ongoing task is to work through all of the Columbian files to create a master index of medals and tickets. That is a monumental task and I can’t begin to write or make final decisions about the overall contents of a book until that work is completed.

Currently, the three major files and the number of entries in each:

  1. General World’s Columbian text and photos — 6,440
  2. Columbian medals text and photos — 8,087
  3. Columbian tickets text and photos — 1,800
  4. Second level files (not included in the above three) include the Midway book, the Kennel Collection, Clients and more. These include a total of 2,872 files.

The major work, mentioned earlier, is simply going through the files to create the most inclusive and complete list of entries for a master list of all medals and tickets. Over the years while researching, writing, buying and selling I have discovered perhaps as many as 500 previously unlisted medals and tickets, not to mention the collection of previously unpublished information. The history of the fair included a great deal of information never before published; the Midway book even moreso was overflowing with previously unpublished and unknown facts about every conceivable aspect of the Midway. I will never publish just a basic checklist of known items without important, useful and interesting information to complement such a list or index.

As this book evolves over the next year it will become quite obvious what limitations exist in publishing the rarities book. I can easily identify essays and articles plus tabular information I have assembled or even completed thus far. This material might be a 100-word sidebar or an important supplementary article.

CONTENTS COMPILED THUS FAR

While the backbone of any book or books will be the major components that collectors have clammored for–that I have wished for–at least for 15-20 years. As collectors, we have just two references:

  1. The Eglit guide to Columbian medals and a variety of periphal related topics, published in the early 1960s….nearly SIXTY years old!
  2. The Doolin guide to Columbian tickets, essentially fewer than twenty pages with no illustrations and little more than a type-written checklist. This year marks the FORTIETH anniversary of its publication.

One can only speculate on how many new discovery pieces have been identified since each book was published. A third book worthy of inclusion into this list is the Hibler and Kappen guide to So-Called Dollars. There are 917 numbered entries in H&K, not counting scores of varieties within the numbers (a, b, etc. listings). Columbian so-called dollars represent catalog entries 154 to 243 plus 42 additional sublistings (a, b, etc.) or more than 130 distinct entries.

Eglit tallies numbers 1 through 596, again with a variety of sublistings. But while Eglit is generally considered the definitive (and only) book devoted to Columbian Medals, its complete title is: Columbiana, The Medallic History of Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Exposition of 1893. But he took a very liberal and often confusing approach to his entries. The book includes pinbacks, souvenirs, tickets among other non-medal entries and each of these entries represents a very small and incomplete smattering of these categories. It is as if the book is intended to be a somewhat inclusive list of medals and a sample of other “Columbiana.” It is very difficult to understand whatever logic may have behind the contents of this publication.

An even greater issue exists within the catalog of medals included. As a compilation of just medals from the World’s Columbian Exposition, for a document produced nearly sixty years ago, if is quite comprehensive in this regard. As a compilation of just medals created to honor Columbus and/or his “discovery” of America, it is a wildly diverse and wholly incomplete catalog. Included are dozens of Latin American medals commemorating the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage to the New World. These represent a very small percentage of such medals produced and likewise the few other similar medals from France, England, Spain and other countries is very limited. Finally, there are also many entries from the U.S. that feature Columbus, the Santa Maria and that first voyage…but that were struck later than 1892. For example, why would one include a beautiful medal struck in 1912 as Eglit did; what about the literally thousands of other U.S. twentieth century medals honoring Columbus?

Our cataloging of medals will include those struck to commemorate or that were used/issued at the World’s Columbian Exposition. Sidebar material about the other areas Eglit haphazzardly touched on or rationalized their inclusion under a broad umbrella of “Columbus.” There are some entries in Eglit that might warrant inclusion as an asterisked category of medals that somehow may be related to the exposition although the medals do not include any reference to the fair. A good argument for inclusion of, for example, a Chicago token or medal dated 1892 or 1893 could be made that since the medal (or token) was used by or purchased by fair visitors it is closely enough associated with the exposition that it could or should be part of such a book.

As one can see, besides the immense task of assembling all the information about and photos of Columbian Expo medals, there are myriad questions about which of thousands of Columbs-related medals and tokens belong in a book about the fair.

Doolin’s book is small and straightforward and really needs no dissecting, per se; it is the only catalog we know of published in the last forty years listing only Columbian tickets. Period. A minor question to be answered surrounds clearly related tickets NOT for use at the fair, i.e. railroad tickets used in getting to and from Chicago and the exposition. Many such tickets, as well as steamship tickets to and from the grounds, contain a world’s fair reference as part of their printing. Those should be included, but what about tickets issued at the time by a railroad which included “Chicago” in the name of the line or had a destination of Chicago, but with no specific or implied relationship to the fair?

We won’t delve into the many issues of completeness or adequacies of Eglit and Doolin, or for that matter H&K. Of greatest importance is the value they have provided collectively over the last half century!

The work involved and the simple volume of entries is amazing. They were so complete that together they still represent the vast majority of Columbian medals and tickets. Neither of the two main books, Eglit and Doolin, provide as much detail and background as most would want or at least appreciate, but the fact that today I can “only” cite a few hundred new additions indicates how comprehensive each was.

Still, no one would dispute that it is time for updates.

Our new “Rarities” book will not only rectify the omissions and illogical inclusions but offer the substantial background and information lacking in both. We have already begun writing a variety of essays and sidebars for the book, including:

  • The Kennel Collection and pertinent information and scope related to both tickets and medals
  • Landing scenes on medals–images, types, number of crew members, number of Native people, designs (dozens of medals include variations on the theme), including landing scene on non medals (discussion not cataloging)
  • Proofs, test strikes/printing, Ferris Wheel proof ticket, Known test strike medals
  • Grading and valuing, changing markets for medals and tickets even moreso than some collectibles
  • Day of Sale and Stand tickets, number of each discovered since previous books
  • Background information relative to tickets, including attendance, complete sales data by concession
  • Important related tickets and medals for related/adjacent concessions such as Buffalo Bill
  • Award Medals
  • Elongateds
  • Index cross referencing topics to assist the reader/collector
  • Photos/captions of concessions related to specific medals and tickets
  • NOT a price guide but detailed information on historical sales (records since the 1990s), how to value tickets and medals, how to determine the validity or lack thereof for dealer pricing (comparing quality vs. rarity and ranges of values and why it is totally impractical to provide a price guide ala a coin Redbook and others

We have made terrific progress, but this has only served to open my eyes even wider in examining the complexities involved in this book.

I would very much appreciate comments about the most important information to you and if a single volume or multiple volumes make more sense: Would a single rarities book as described be of greater or less desirablity than a book dealing only with tickets, another dealing only with medals and then an additional book or annual volumes devoted to information about the fair specifically focused on the needs and interests of the collector.

We have many decisions to make regarding how this book will look; the good news is none of the time invested has been wasted and continuing with our planned priorities as we work can move forward prior to deciding whether we produce one book as outlined here or multiple books as discussed.

I hope you will be in touch (norm@thehistorybank.com) with your input. I value it highly.

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