Columbian Exposition Tickets

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Many High End, "Bright White" Examples Added 10-10!

Native American Ticket


Washington Ticket


Franklin Ticket

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Columbus Ticket


Lincoln Ticket


Composer Handel Ticket

Original Ferris Wheel
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Miscellaneous Day Passes

A Brief Introduction To The 1893 Columbian Exposition

Chicago World's Fair

In 1893 a world's fair was held in Chicago, and dubbed the Columbian Exposition since it marked the 400th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of the New World. Its early conception envisioned an "It's-Small-World-After-All" theme. Countries and cultures around the globe from New South Wales (Australia) to the independent nation of Hawaii were invited to come, set up exhibits, and celebrate the new community of the world. What it evolved into was the coming out party for the modern industrial age, the awesome opening act of an ever evolving technological circus that would be fueled by oil and overseen by a cadre of ringmasters that would become the corporate world.

27.5 million people attended the fair during its run from May 1st until October 30th of the same year. Estimates have one of every four Americans passing through the turnstiles, out of a total U.S. population of around 63 million. The remainder of the attendees came from around the globe. It's doubtful, given current population figures and future estimates, there will ever be another event that will draw a proportionate segment of the populace. Through meticulous preparation, the flow of humanity was regulated through 182 ticket windows, 97 ticket booths, 326 turnstyles, and 172 exit gates.

Ticket types numbered in the hundreds as there were tickets to enter the fair, and separate tickets for exhibits and amusements available once inside. This site features and sells the most collectible of the ticket types, what were know as the souvenir portrait series. Also, a limited number of specialty tickets will be available, tickets issued for commemorative days such as "Chicago Day" which paid tribute to those lost in the tragic fire which ravaged the city in 1871, and the "Manhattan Day" issue.

The souvenir portrait entry tickets were never sold at the gate. They were good for the season and not taken from the bearer at the time of admission. Months before the fair opened in May of 1893, fair managers were receiving requests for the four original portrait passes, and the first were mailed out a month before the gates opened. Roughly 60,000 were printed, most being handed out to exhibitors, concessionaires, and the press, people who would need the ability to come and go throughout the fair's run. Doubtless many of these ended up in the hands of friends and friends of friends, for even then they were highly desirable as key mementos of the fair.

Forget your Grateful Dead tickets, your Doors, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, etc. Priceless are they may be to you, no public tickets before or since match the exquisite detail and aesthetic appeal of the Columbian Exhibition portrait tickets. They were rendered by the leading engravers of the time and printed by the American Bank Note Company in New York. The New York printers had for years been creating American currency, most notably the little known, but beautifully designed series of fractional bills turned out between 1862 and 1876 to make up for the dirth of "hard" coin that hamstrung daily commerce during the Civil War.

The original four were designed to represent the historical record of the young country. The "Indian" chief paid tribute to the era of the native Americans-ironic in hindsight given we had pretty much done everything possible to erase them and their culture from the land by then. Given that digression, the Indian portrait is a beautifully idealized portrayal of the noble savage, a plains Indian of importance wearing a full war bonnet. Many collectors consider it the most artistic pass in the set. The second in the series featured the man the expo was name for, dauntless explorer Christopher Columbus, who overcame fear, and near mutiny, barely making landfall before setting the future in motion. Next was Washington, a rebel General who led first the revolution, then a nation which at the time had little more in common than a history of self reliance and a desire for freedom. Last came Lincoln, depicted as vibrant in spite of the fact that his efforts to preserve the new union were framed by times of tragedy.

So, fair planners chose their portrait subjects well. Again, these tickets were issued first of April in 1863. At a later time, the same four passes were re-issued, this time marked with an "A" on the obverse to identify them as part of the later issuance. Concurrently the Franklin portrait pass was printed. Franklin was chosen for his discovery of electricity, the use of which was a hallmark of the fair. All Franklin's include the "A", and the word "Complimentary" is also found on the obverses. These were sent to businesses which would in turn offer them to their best customers as perks. The final entry in the portrait was of composer George F. Handel. Handel had created a symphony titled "Water Music" for the then English king. The ticket bears the word "Music", but no "A" and portrays Handel plucking a harp. His inclusion celebrated the musical themes and the preponderance of fountains and other water features throughout the fairgrounds. Because of limited issuance, and the resultant scarcity, the Handel ticket is considered the key piece to a complete portrait set, and Franklin the semi key.

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