Vandals on the Midway after Closing

On this site and in our books about the World’s Columbian Expo we’ve discussed how quickly and painfully the fair evaporated after closing. Buildings were demolished; architectural devices inside and out of the Grand Buildings were sold; foreign and state buildings were dismantled (a few sold intact that were removed and put to other uses); fires started or were set and large chunks of the fair succumbed that way. But on the Midway, months after the fair closed it was open season for looters. Some concessions hired guards to protect their villages and buildings until they could dismantle them, while others had abandoned what was left that they didn’t want. This was the first time (January 3, 1894) since the October closing that treasure hunters and just those wanting a last look at the fair were allowed on site.

The Chicago Tribune newspaper reported on the demise of most of what was left of the Midway in an article the next day. The following is an excerpt from that article. Like most Victorian writing, it can become cumbersome and too flowery to read when all you want are the facts, but it does paint an accurate picture of the chaos that transpired along the Midway.

Five thousand people made merry in the Midway yesterday. They did it by taking a little of everything in sight and from the small boy to the seal-coated woman and silk-tied man there was no hesitation about carrying away anything that came handy. The people were afoot, on bicycles and in carriages.  

The looting or relic-hunting began as soon as the gates were opened, and lasted all afternoon. Even little pieces were folded up and put in handbags. 

Early in the day the people having charge of the Java Village secured permission to swear in half a dozen policemen and they were kept busy trying to prevent the destruction of the place. The relic-hunters waited until an officer’s back was turned. Then they boldly grabbed off some of the thatched roofs of the little dwellings and tore away the sides. In this business young and old women were equally industrious with the men. In fact one of the officers declared he had more difficulty in keeping the women from demolishing the huts than the other class of vandals. 

Everywhere it seemed to be a general free-for-all with no compunctions of conscience. One nicley dressed old lady with spectacles and gray hair plodded cheerfully along the Midway towards the west entrance, with a piece of a bamboo roof and a number of pieces of poles under one arm, and her capacious handbag in the other. A whole family of a mother and four daughters created a great deal of amusement by marching along, each loaded with rubbish. The girls were not averse to loading the stuff on their shoulders, although their clothes were of the semi-elegant sort.

At one of the little (Java) houses…could be seen the bodies of people protruding, their heads were lost in the interior. “What is der to see in dah?” asked one negro who had been waiting his turn to poke his head in the window. 

The site of the Venice-Murano Glass Works was a great place for relic-hunters. There was nothing left but debris but 100 men, boys, and girls poked around with sticks in the ashes, where the furnaces had stood, looking for bits of colored glass. They seemed perfectly happy to have discovered two or three pieces. The small boys, though, were not contented until they filled little bags with the rubbish. The gayly-colored lithographs left by Hagenbeck and other concessionaires were eagerly sought.

Curious ones were seen peering into the empty hygeia water booths looking for something to carry away. The Italian, with his capacious bag, was among them, and every old bottle he could find went into his sack.

More than half the state and foreign buildings are standing….most buildings are cleared of exhibits. The Fisheries building…Manufactures building…all the buildings have been emptied of their displays. Visitors are excluded in order to prevent the relic fiends from carrying off the property.

While I’m sure there was more to report, thus was the inauspicious end to virtually the entire Midway. Fortunately, while many of the concessions lost bits and pieces of their structures and building decorations, all of the concessions seemed to have escaped with all of their merchandise, musical instruments, costumes…and their health. The newspaper reporter I am sure would have cited any examples of items of value that were looted should they have been there for the taking.

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As we have said previously, we are anxious to hear of any items sold as merchandise along the Midway, or verified as relics from any concession. Please let us know if you are aware of or have any such items. We are working on two World’s Columbian Expo projects: We have discussed the catalog of all tickets from the fair in the past but have not yet announced the future publication examining ALL 360 concessions at the fair and the financial aspects of each, along with other fair data and analysis. This project will provide previously unpublished information on concessions which will allow museums and collectors to link items from the fair to specific vendors. We will provide more details as the project takes shape.

Rare Exposition Medal–Not From the World’s Columbian Expo

While this journal is dedicated to the World’s Columbian Exposition, and there certainly are thousands of posts we could offer from it, we felt that sharing this information on a medal we recently discovered would be of interest to those collecting Columbiana. The following is from the text of the description of this unique Exhibitor’s Medal from the world’s first world’s fair in London in 1851.

Where to begin…..

This is an exhibitor’s medal from the first-ever exposition called a world’s fair in London, 1851, which took place at the Crystal Palace. The obverse of the medal features Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, who nearly single-handedly planned, oversaw and made an incredible success out of the 1851 world’s fair.Crystal Palace Named2.JPG

Exhibitors were presented with this medal, a very handsome high relief bronze, and the edge was engraved with the exhibitor’s name and the number assigned to them as an exhibitor. (Please note that the specks of dust below the bust of Prince Albert are just that, not any problem with the medal.)

We have in our forty years of handling world’s fair memorabilia owned two of these spectacular medals, neither of which was engraved to an exhibitor. Virtually all of the tiny handful of medals in the marketplae are extras from the minting. They were saved uncirculated and unengraved and it is those that normally show up every few years. Finding a presentation copy is so very difficult because they were presented to individuals, government agencies, private companies that were exhibitors. How many of the companies survived to even the 20th century?

That the world’s fair was held 167 years ago means most of the medals were passed on to an executive or family member, rolled from one desk to another attic and so on, such that over the 167 years most were simply lost to collectors. A very few may be found in museums. That this is the first engraved exhibitor medal we’ve been able to offer attests to the rarity. We have handled award medals for dozens of world’s fairs and our specialty, the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, produced many times more medals than any other fair (as awards) and few fairs offered such high-quality medallic art to those participating. Everything under the direction of Prince Albert was top-drawer, not just for the period. The venue of glass was a unique showhplace for the time and would be considered an architectural triumph even today.

This medal is engraved to the joint exhibition of the countries of Sweden and Norway. We found it in Europe, which is no surprise. How it found its way to the commercial collector market was no doubt an interesting trail, but we’re not aware of how it began as a presentation piece in London and came up for auction inn 2017.

Crystal Palace Named3.jpg As a historian (having written two books on the Columbian Exposition) and consultant to many museums over the years I remain somewhat mystified that more named/engraved medals over the last 167 years aren’t stillknown outside of museums. That this was so long ago and at what has always been recognized as the world’s first world’s fair, makes this piece incredibly desirable and rare. On top of this, it is in immaculate condition, an amazing plus.

Finally, one thing I have learned over this many years of handling museum and exposition medals, for which there is no price guide per se, just knowledge of the marketplace, often means that the medals can be purchased for what sseems like a much lower cost that rarity should indicate.

An interesting comparison was a medal from the other fair which I have been invovled in all my life–the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. There were not exhibitor or actual award medals for that exposition, but the U.S. Mint made a limited number of 5-ounce .999 silver versions of the official so-called dollar size bronze and silver medals sold to the general public. We had not seen one of these rare pieces in perhaps 15 or more years until one was on ebay and sold the first week of 2018 for $230. With an intrinsic value of five ounces of silver and marketplace that had seen a half-dozen sold in 25 years and just this one in the last decade and a half, should it not be substantially more expensive?

Crystal Palace Named4.JPGConsider the World’s Columbian award medals which generally are on ebay at least once or twice a month and perhaps 500 named recipient medals are known: A decent specimen will bring $200-$300 and many ask $500 or more (which doesn’t mean they will find a buyer), although we saw one nice but typical medal sell for $800.

The point is a simple one: Demand of collectors overrides rarity and condition.

This unique medal from the Crystal Palace and “The Exhibition of the Workds of Industry of all Nations” based on its condition and rarity and the importance of the event would suggest to me that it should be appraised at $1,000+/-. It also is obvious that there might be but one or two collectors in the world interested enough in this fair and medal to pay what condition and rarity would deem logical. I actually feel that pricing it as I have ($450, which seems both greatly underpriced and what should appeal to collectors) is almost sacrilege. It is certainly undervaluing a work of numismatic, historicaland medallic art.

This entire conundrum regarding value and worth is why when we have been asked to appraise individual and museum collections we provide a report and essay on all pertinent factors including demand as well as condition, rarity and historical significance….but also for insurance purposes, an amount that would be necessary to replace it–if items can be replaced. If this medal were say a U.S. or British coin, these problems would disappear. We have relatively sound knowledge of mintage, a matrix of known market value by condition and both buyers and sellers can immediately narrow the price range.

This issue of valuing collectibles and medals, and specifically those from the 1893 Columbian Exposition, can be researched and pertinent facts documented. But the obvious issue of demand is even more difficult to identify that it seems. The 1851 Crystal Palace medal illustrates this rather painfully. We often see items from the 1893 fair alongside very similar items from the next great fair, in St. Louis in 1904. Almost any time on ebay one can see parallels between the fairs. We just saw (January 2018) worker and concession passes from both fairs. If you could obtain one from Chicago for less than $100 it would be considered a bargain in the marketplace; a similar item from St. Louis (very clearly more scarce than one from Chicago) just sold for $20. The only answer is demand for Columbian items is much greater, so rarity becomes a minor factor.

We will report later on the sale of the Crystal Palace medal: Rarity and condition are known, and we also know that far fewer U.S. collectors are interested in European world’s fairs. As the seller, of course I would like to see the medal bring a reasonable price. But I’m well aware that rarity and condition, and historical significance, will take a back seat to a comparatively small group of potential buyers.

This entire subject should be of strong interest to anyone collecting Columbiana, even curators at the many museums that have such collections. Because for everyone involved we can do a comprehensive job of detailing rarity, evaluation condition and discussing relative historical value. But putting a dollar or replacement value focuses dramatically on the size of the pool of potential buyers.

Discovery of Previously Unknown Ticket From the World’s Columbian Exposition

57.jpgIf you have followed our posts, you are probably familiar with the chart of “Good Only on Day of Sale” tickets which we presented earlier. We have logged the Day of Sale tickets quite religiously for several decades and it is still surprising to discover a new number and letter combination.

This ticket was on ebay recently as part of an auction with a common admission ticket and the pair sold for something in the $35 range. We would, of course, have considered this ticket alone to be worth more than that due to the fact that it is the only known one. There may well be others out there, but no 5/Y has previously come up for sale or auction that we know of.

We are continuing our research and work on a book about cataloging tickets from the World’s Columbian Exposition and it is a long, slow process. We currently have 781 ticket scans collected, and it both includes some duplicates–and does NOT include many we know of that we do not yet have photos. For example, we do not have photographs collected in this file for all the Day of Sale Tickets, many passes and a great many of the rarer tickets.

We have begun very preliminary planning on how to structure the book and what it might look like–and if we will develop an option for collectors to purchase an online catalog either separate from or along with a printed book.

The very tedious task we’ve only just begun is taking a copy of the only catalog of any kind ever compiled (Doolin, 1980) and listing all of the tickets in a master file overlapping Doolin. His was a remarkably thorough work considering when it was done but it also was little more than a mention of most tickets. We hope to use exhaustive photographs and informational text categorized more expansively than done by Doolin, and a major addition will be a section on passes and other pseudo-tickets never before cataloged.

For now, the above 5/Y is just one of dozens never reported previously that will be in the book down the road a significant distance!


We have been setting aside rare books, brochures and printed material from the World’s Columbian Exposition, as well as other antiquarian material that thus far includes Civil War books, 19th century newspapers and documents and assorted other printed material.

We’re not sure how we will offer the material for sale–either a fixed-priced list or an auction–but the project has taken on a life of its own and grown beyond what we had in mind a few months ago. We have numerous stacks of books and other material in various corners of our office.

We’ll probably not have the material inventoried and described to offer for a some time. It might be most logical to wait until after the holidays.

In any event we would like to ask any of you who have interest in the material to please drop me a note to ensure we have you on the list when it comes time to announce the sale. While we have a master list of folks with interest in the World’s Columbian Exposition, many of you discovering this blog would not be on that list.

If you have interest in the antiquarian book sale please send an email at your convenience to, and we’ll make sure that you receive announcements when the time comes.

Besides several dozen rare and outstanding Columbian books, we’ll have photos, prints, brochures and other WCE material. The Civil War and 19th century material includes a very rare hardbound annual book on U.S. patents including the only patent every awarded to a United States President–Abraham Lincoln. We will also have some autographed material, as well as rare newspapers and period documents.

While it’s premature to say, I’m guessing we will have about 100 lots in the sale.



Of the tens of thousands of items we have seen from the World’s Columbian Exposition over the last 40 years, those that have concrete provenance that they were exhibited at the fair are minimal.

We certainly know of countless souvenirs–medals, spoons, brochures, photos, books, paperweights, glasses and on and on–that came from the exposition. In fact, the number of souvenirs from the Columbian Expo in 1893 probably outnumbers souvenirs from any other world’s fair.

But what about those items actually exhibited or sold that were not souvenirs and thus have no label identifying them as from the fair. For example, items sold on the Midway–also numbering in the thousands–were in homes around the world after the fair. And, many probably still remain with the families of fairgoers. Artwork and handiwork from around the globe–the Far East and the Middle East–from slippers to brasswork to oriental rugs and so on–were sold to visitors by vendors from Turkey, Palestine, Japan, China, Syria, Java, Samoa and dozens more. And in the state and foreign buildings as well as the main buildings, tens of thousands of articles were exhibited (and sold), again without any formal identification. Modern fairs, of course, carry price tags, identification tags and sewn-in labels on all types of items. Most collectors appreciate, and will pay a premium, to see a shirt with a sewn-in tag from say the 1939 New York World’s Fair. We recently sold a lovely young girl’s dress that had a specialty manufacturer’s tag sewn in; it had the fair name, the Trylon and Perisphere and was in the trademark orange of the exposition. It’s very common to see stickers on the bottom of souvenirs going back to the 1933-34 Chicago Century of Progress exposition and on to fairs in New York (1939),  San Francisco (1939), Seattle (1962), New York (1964-65) and more recently. And while many owners carefully pealed off the price tags and/or labels, they’re cherished by collectors. But in 1893 with great exception, such tags do not exist.

A receipt or a photograph (or preferably both) can link items to the fair, but they seldom exist. The ideal provenance package we have never seen assembled would be text about an exhibit, photographs of it and the official award medal. We have seen some award medals we know could be part of such a provenance package, but only recently saw one such collection that consisted of publications, photographs, actual printed 1893-era documents and an award medal all related to the whaleback steamship Christopher Columbus. While the ship wasn’t exactly a souvenir or part of an exhibit at the fair, it was an integral part of the exposition. It’s surprising that similar exhibits and collections have never been equally as painstakingly assembled.

WCE DOLL DRESS #4.JPGThe photograph above is, to the best of our knowledge, unique in this aspect, even though the work was never done to identify the seamstress who entered this personally designed and sewn ensemble for a doll. The multi-piece outfit remains in decent condition, although the cotton has faded and discolored somewhat over the years. As you probably know, there were exhibits (competitively shown and hoping for an award medal) of clothing, fruit, plants, electrical equipment, livestock, artwork and categories ad infinitum. Just the post-fair book on awards from the fair required 1,000+ pages to list them all by category.

All that we have in this case is the item, sans personal background on the person who made it, but we have a stamp on the inside of the dress that is unique. We have never seen another on an item identifying it as exhibited at the fair.

Having spent nearly 40 years researching and writing about the World’s Columbian Exposition, I have seen thousands of pieces of puzzles about bits of history from the fair. It would take a major commitment of time and energy to create a mini-archive of photos and information about souvenirs or exhibited items from the fair, but it remains possible, although less so as time goes by.

If any of our readers has ever seen an identical or similar stamp or tag for any item exhibited at the fair, please do let us know!



I’ve been asked several times about the ‘rumor’ that the battleship anchored at the fair was not really a U.S. warship. The state-of-the-art war machine was in fact not the actual navy battleship, even though it was identical in length, beam, design, gun placements and every other aspect above the waterline. Visitors to the fair could tour the ship, stroll around above decks, look at the weaponry and the various accoutrements and talk to navy crew on board.

So what was not real about the ship? Everything. It wasn’t a ship at all. It was a wood and concrete model made to the exact superficial specifications of the real battleship. Above decks it looked identical, but if one could see below decks and below the waterline, it was quite a different story. The ‘ship’ was built on pilings sunk into the lake bottom and everything below decks was very solid structural construction of heavy wood beams and concrete to support the superstructure and the constant flow of visitors touring the ship.

Considering so much of the fair was state of the art it only makes sense that this model was so well built that millions of visitors had no idea they were looking at or walking on the deck of a solid structure rather than a floating one.

Why the U.S. Navy did not anchor a war ship at the fairgrounds for visitors to tour is odd, especially since the world’s navies were a big part of the fair and the massive naval celebration in New York, as well.

Rare Columbian Tickets & the Complexities of Valuing Them

Below is what we believe to be a unique ticket, but how does this play into the list of the most rare tickets from the World’s Columbian Exposition. There are many railroad, custom travel and similar tickets.

441-WCE maine gov RR Tix.gif

This one is great. It sold for perhaps $150 many years ago, but what’s it “worth?” I certainly had many similar tickets in my collection that I sold in 2008 and while they were in demand, the price was nowhere near what others were.

I thought it would be a nice idea to write an article about the rarest Columbian tickets as I work on the earliest stages of a new book cataloging the tickets and passes of the fair. I’m overwhelmed with the text I could or should be writing.

The book needs to catalog ALL of the tickets possible to identify, but what about the historial background of each, the values and the anectdotal information about them? The deeper I get into this project the more I see the possibillities of a ridiculously massive volume. That’s neither what the market wants or that would be financially feasible to produce.

But in planning a list of the top/rare ten or twenty tickets brings two difficult questions to mind: How can one establish a “value” in dollars when the collecting community, the market and the selling prices vary so dramatically? And how do we address “demand,” which is more volatile than in virtually any collectible field I’ve ever run across.

First, prices and “value” change greatly even if the known rarity does not. We have seen in many cases where a ticket where perhaps 3 to 5 are known to exist sells for say $500 in the year 2000. In 2010 it might bring $1,000 and in 2015 $350. One might question the logic or accuracy of such statements, but unfortunately, they’re quite accurate.

Having purchased tickets for my own collection as early as 1980 I have seen this type of change both up and down in selling price repeatedly. Unlike stamps or coins which have a long history of catalogs and price guides–as well as tens of thousands of collectors in each hobby–any world’s fair and especially the Columbian, lacks all the elements that could provide continuity to pricing.

When I first entered the field, there were a half dozen well-known and well-versed collectors of Columbiana. Tickets seldom changed hands for several hundred dollars. One exception, a total anomaly in this entire subject, has been the Ferris Wheel. It’s always been expensive, even decades ago. Why? Because of the mystique surrounding it. There are easily a few DOZEN examples of Ferris Wheel tickets in collectors’ hands.

Still you would be very hard pressed to buy one for less than $1,000. Some years ago I saw a tattered mess of a Ferris Wheel ticket sell for exactly that much. But with a little luck you could still find one out there in perfect condition for the same amount.

How does this make sense? In any collectible or economic field we all know that the bottom line is “supply and demand.” If there are 1,000 of a ticket and there is still demand for 1,000 or more, the price stays up. If there are five known tickets and 50 people who want one, the price goes up. And so on….sort of.

In the Columbian ticket market, as I have studied it for 35+ years, the rules don’t seem to apply. Is there really much greater demand for a Ferris Wheel ticket than there are tickets to be purchased? To some extent there must be because no matter when one becomes available, there is always someone around willing to pay the asking price of $1,000 or even $2,000. Yet if we can verify that 35-50 such tickets exist, what about the many Columbian examples with just one or maybe two or three known? How can they bring substantially less than a Ferris Wheel ticket?

My conclusion to this is based only on my own experience buying and selling. I firmly believe that the upper tier of collectors willing to purchase ultra rare tickets is tiny. Whether looking at the 1980s or the 2000s there have always been a very small handful of highly knowledgeable and very aggressive ticket buyers/collectors.

Today, due to ebay, we have a base of several times more Columbian collectors than ever before. But we till have that small handful who understand the rarities and their history AND are willing to pay top dollars for what they know to be the ultra rare tickets.

So how does this play out in today’s marketplace, certainly of major concern to me as a buyer and a seller and a researcher and writer.

If the top twenty Columbian tickets of all-time were to show up every so often on ebay what would they fetch? My assumption is that many would bring LESS than they did over the last couple of decades, while the other half might well exceed the historical highs.


Back to the collectors. Without 10, 20 or 50 years of personal Columbian collecting history, how can a serious but relatively new collector be expected to know about the unique ticket from the past….that is now being resold or perhaps a second specimen has been unearthed.

It is almost impossible to discuss this in hard terms without citing specific tickets and their specific “values” or rather, their selling price some time in the past.

All this has led me to a better understanding of what a catalog of tickets should contain.

I cannot list a Ferris Wheel Ticket or a music ticket or a police pass and assign a value. The value twenty years ago might have been $1,500 for a given ticket and tomorrow on ebay it might bring $600. So what is the value? By using comparitive rarities and historical importance I might be inclined to assign a value to one of $800, another of $1800. But I believe that is the wrong approach. What I intend to do is discuss the rarity, important and  previous selling price. Then, with a logical market price of $1,500-$2,000 we still may see it sell for half as much or twice as much. The one factor no one can determine or establish is WHO is available to bid when an item comes to auction and how those bidders personally value a rare ticket.

With, compared to myriad other fields, how few Columbian collectors exist and how very few exist with the financial ability to spend several thousand dollars on a ticket, “value” is almost a meaningless term. I recall vividly in the earliest years of ebay when I was one of a half dozen so-called upper tier ticket collectors. A wonderful small collection of Columbian tickets came on ebay. I knew for a fact that three of the other five collectors who should have been strong bidders were on vacation. I don’t recall the status of the other two, but I do recall quite vividly that I was able to win the group of tickets for about one third of my anticipated price–just because the others weren’t there to bid.

I suspect that today a similar situation might arise and then, attempting to use the selling price as a legitimate “value” would be dramatically misleading. All this is going to be factored into the catalog I produce. The closest I intend to come to valuing any pieces can be found in the language I’ve used below in listing rare tickets.

As I noted, I wanted to share a list of some of the rarest tickets. I do so with the caveat that I am not placing them in any order or rank, nor am I assigning a present value. And there are plenty more rarities that belong in the list of “rarest Columbian tickets.” The final list might contain 25 or 35 total tickets. Here’s a start.

  • The only known PROOF of the Ferris Wheel ticket, in all black ink, front only on was on slick proof paper. I sold this about ten years or more ago for $1,800. Today I would think it should bring close to twice that amount. I’m not including the basic Ferris Wheel ticket in this list because while it always brings a high price, and it certainly could be categorized as “rare,” those listed here are unique or examples of tickets where far fewer than the Ferris Wheel tickets are known.
  • Camera Obscura was planned as an exhibit on the Midway but never came to fruition. It may have had visitors at the earliest stages of Midway construction but was not completed nor opened. This ticket brought the highest price known for a Columbian ticket at Heritage Auction’s sale of my personal ticket collection in 2008 at $3,100. I purchased it, with a pair of family photos, on ebay where the ticket was only partially shown. I am sure that most collectors did not give a second thought to the partially hidden ticket and saw the lot as two photos of a couple, one taken at the World’s Columbian Exposition. I was intrigued and won the lot for $35 and it took several years before I was able to place the ticket in its context and to understand its rarity. What would it sell for today? My gut says maybe only half what it sold for in 2008–unless more than one collector were to be aggressive in trying to buy it.
  • A very strange pass from the Austro-Hungarian Gazette is the only known ticket or pass to the fair from this very obscure publication. The pass was very oddly designed and looked almost as if it were a joke. Still, it did bring nearly $800 a decade ago. While it is clearly unique, it is also highly unusual and might not excite buyers.
  • This is the only example known of a “token ticket” for Stand 20 that identified the concession. It was for soft drinks and looked much like a 1960s esoteric design squeezed into the standard “stand” size ticket. It sold for approximately $1,500 in about 2005-6. I was an underbidder at the time. Again, it doesn’t fit the formula for many tickets, but certainly should be “worth” more than its previous selling price.
  • A complimentary pass (not ticket) for the Intramural Railway sold for $999 about the same time and it was assumed to be unique and probably is. Because the railway is such an integral and popular element of the fair, I would assume that you would not be able to touch this one for anywhere near its original selling price.
  • While not a single ticket, a group of Intramural tickets–a very rare commissioner’s ticket, an equally rare complimentary ticket and a standard ticket–sold together for $1,912 in roughly the same period as the above RR pass. Obviously, 90% of the price was wrapped up in the commissioner’s and comp tickets.
  • The Oriental Odeon was a theater on the Midway and I know of two tickets that exist, one that I sold in my collection in 2008 for more than $2,200 and one that was owned by the late John Kennel. John was a terrific resource for collectors, a collector much longer than I and a great human being, not just a collector’s friend. I do not know if his family kept his collection intact or if/when it will be sold. In a case such as this, whether there is one or two known is irrelevant–it might as well be unique.
  • I know of only one complimentary pass to the Kilauea Volcano on the Midway and a good friend sold it in 2007 for $2,008. This would have to be one of the most desirable tickets from the Midway.
  • A recent ticket/card for filling out hours for the Rolling Chair Company recently sold on ebay for I believe around $1,000; the one in my collection sold in 2008 for a bit over $1,300. While 3-to-5 may be known, this is a great piece and one that can be researched easily (Aha…in my new history of the Midway, of course) and with so few known, I think there should be no reduction in price today. I believe that the $1,000 sale on ebay was a bargain for the buyer.
  • While the Buffalo Bill Wild West show was clearly not part of the fair (I discussed this in “The Grand Midway” as well) it is lumped in with it by many and for many reasons. Medals (very, very rare) issued have the fair on one side and Buffalo Bill on the other, for example. The only admission ticket I’ve heard of for the Wild West show concurrent with the fair sold for $865 about ten years ago. Again, I’d consider this greatly underpriced.
  • The Arctic Whaling Bark (ship) on display at the fair was one of dozens of free-standing exhibits that were relegated to an “other” class with so many things to see and write about at the time. I sold the only ticket I’d ever seen in my 2008 sale for nearly $900. I would guess that John Kennel had one in his collection and that perhaps another is floating around in another longtime collection. I think that the relative obscurity of the exhibit might keep a ceiling on the selling price, although based strictly on rarity it should sell for much more than it did in 2008.
  • A unique ticket I found nearly twenty years ago and sold in 2008 was a ticket to a Grand Ball for fair employees held on the Midway after the close of the fair. I was elated when I found it and I’ve never heard of another. It sold for just under $1,150. This seems to me to be near the top of any ticket list, in rarity and price.
  • An interesting and NOT unique ticket which still shows up occasionally (I’d guess fewer than 10 are known) is the Vertical Transit elevator ticket. Along with the Hale elevator tickets they are always in demand, quite rare and especially interesting in that elevators were so new in 1893 that they required the purchase of a ticket to ride them. I purchased a lot of 5 or 6 and sold them for up to $795 each in about 2005; at the time I knew of one collector who had another from the same “find.” I would guess that a couple of others might be out there in the hands of collectors. They are certainly scarce enough that today a price of nearly $1,000 each seems quite reasonable.
  • One piece that maybe should or shouldn’t be here–with tokens perhaps instead–is a ten cent good-for chit from the French Cider Press on the Midway. It is about the size of a business card and made of some type of glass or porcelain which is cracked–and it is unique. I don’t have the record of the amount at hand, but I sold it privately to a collector for about $2,000. I would think that this piece, since it would appeal to ticket or token collectors, easily could/should bring more than $2,000 today.

I think it best to stop this list (we may well do another as our work on the book progresses) but hopefully this provides some general insight into the rarer tickets and the ticket marketplace. It would be quite easy to add another dozen to this list of rarities, regardless of their past selling prices. And mentioning the French Cider Press piece also brings to mind the many unique tokens from the fair, which we will discuss another time.

I’m very anxious for your feedback and for input on other rarities with which you are familiar. I’m constantly amazed at how many tickets and stories about them are out there yet to be discovered.





Chicago’s Grand Midway Enroute

For those who have ordered copies of our new book, my sincere apologies for the slow arrival. The official publication date was July 1 and advance copies were available in Chicago at the three venues where I spoke. I also signed extra books beyond those that were sold after my presentations.

If you’re in the Chicago area, I urge you to purchase direct from the Book Stall in Winnetka or the Seminary Co-op Bookstore in Hyde Park on the University of Illinois campus.

You can also order direct from the University of Illinois Press at

I’m told that books I’ve ordered for resale as well as my “author” copies are enroute but they should have been here by now. I’m hopeful a few more days will result in a delivery of a couple cartons of books. Thanks very much for your patience.

If you have any questions about the new books, our original history of the fair still in print after 24 years or articles written here, please let me know at–or just click the “Contact” button on the home page.

Original WCE Fixtures on Ebay

On any given day there are 2,000+ items on ebay from the World’s Columbian Expo–books, cards, tickets, medals, jewelry, paperweights and so on. On rare occasions we see a major piece of furniture or structure. In June, I spotted two such items, but if you’re interested, better check your PayPal balance. The photo here is an electric street lamp from the fair and was offered for $18,000. When I went back to check on it, the listing was gone. I suppose someone with deep pockets and a large exhibit space may have purchased it; or more likely, there were no buyers and the listing expired.


CEYLONG $26K 8 X11FT.jpg

As if the lampost wasn’t rare enough to cause folks to take a second look, these amazing carved pillars were also listed in June. The lot consisted of eight 11-foot tall carved pillars for a total ebay asking price of $26,000. If someone just happened to be in the market for some architectural structural components for a house or store, what a great–and expensive–addition to a modern structure.

We can’t attest to the provenance but I believe one could certainly compare the carved pillars to photos of the Ceylon Building. And at just a glance, the lamp post being offered looks exactly like the ones on the street in the center of the Midway in our new book.

Since my budget and space are a tad more limited than these items would require, I’m sticking to my folding chair from Old Vienna’s courtyard restaurant as my piece of vintage WCE furniture in my office; it fits a tad better than a light pole or an eleven-foot carved wooden support.

It should go without saying that not every “genuine” item from the World’s Columbian Expo is, in fact, from our favorite fair. We have seen a variety of signs and large items with absolutely no provenance and no corroborating evidence in photos offered on ebay and elsewhere. Souvenirs aside, one of the toughest tasks in verifying authenticity is with non-souvenir items sold or allegedly sold on the Midway or the main grounds–oriental rugs, silks, carvings, etc. They may well be a Samoan or Turkish item made in 1893 at the fair….or they may be a genuine item made in 1891 or 1895…or they just may not be genuine at all. Too often the only provenance is a verbal or hand-written note from somone’s great grandmother. If that’s enough to satisfy you to acquire a vintage piece for your home, great: But you’ll never recoup your investment when it comes time to sell unless you have some solid provenance. And you don’t want to leave it to your kids or grandkids with nothing but a story about its origin.

Thanks To All Involved in Chicago Trip

Thanks to everyone who made the launch of Chicago’s Grand Midway in Chicago June 17-22 a great success. That begins with the University of Illinois Press staff setting up the events. I can’t say enough about the individuals at the various venues, and I apologize I don’t have all the names to thank publicly. The book Stall coordinated my talk and book signing at the venerable downtown University Club and the staff of the club were all a big help.

The Book Stall in Winnetka set up the program at the store with an interview format rather than just me talking for an hour on my own and it went very well.

The Seminary Co-Op Bookstore on the University of Chicago campus did a terrific job, recording my hour+ long talk for their series of podcasts and also recording a brief recommendation of another author’s book; I spent a few minutes discussing a new book, also from the University of Illinois Press, by a friend and colleague, Douglas Wilson. Doug is one of the country’s foremost authorities on Abraham Lincoln and has a new book examining Lincoln through the correspondence of his longtime law partner in illinois, William Herndon.

After the talk at the Seminary Co-op we walked the short distance to the Midway where I led the group along the north side adjacent to the University of Chicago and discussed the various villages and concessions, where they were situated, their size and a bit about them. We were planning on an hour or so, but the walking and talking tour went so well that we didn’t stop until dusk overtook us. We spent two hours and still covered only about one fourth of the Midway and its villages of 1893.

Thanks very much to all the folks who took time to attend the presentations and to ask many insightful questions. I think that all told we had about 85 attendees at the three venues, and it was a great pleasure to speak to many and hear about their interests in the World’s Columbian Exposition.