Sydney Exposition 1879

Paul Storm, President of the Society recently spoke on the Great Expositions (Expos) of the 1800s in London and Sydney covering commercial, cultural, industrial, promotional material and arts & crafts.

Many mementos were struck to mark then occasions of the Expositions.

Paul mentioned the David Warner photographs of developments in Willoughby in the 1930s held by the Society. Julie Warner has subsequently brought more personal items related to Artarmon where they lived including Real Estate posters and photographs of their home and of council events. Amongst the items donated was a small scarf of the Sydney International Exposition in 1879 as a souvenir. Paul has had a long interest in Great Exhibitions. Paul’s presentation focussed on items that have come to Paul personally. A show and tell presentation of items ensued including:

• A cast bronze medal from the 1879 exposition with the emblem of progress of NSW and the exhibition building on the front. A wreath on the back composed of Australian wildflowers. Made in Sydney with high quality press.


• A medal of the Melbourne Exposition 1880– Queen Victoria on one side and wreath of Bay leaves on the other.


These exhibitions were an established event to the first world war. The 1851 London Exhibition was driven by Prince Albert. A national promotion of industry, art, agriculture, the economy and non- material aspects of society e.g. Education. It was a roaring success. A model for future exhibition buildings it was 100 metres long with a dome in the centre, it was used from then around the British world – called The Crystal Palace as it was largely glass. Out of this came the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Crystal Palace included the trees in Hyde Park. A prefabricated fountain was built next to the building. Day excursions were organised by Thomas Cook and sons to visit the Exhibition.


• Two other souvenir Medals were presented for examination.
One from the 1851 exhibition. The other for the Crystal Palace Sydenham where the exhibition was moved from Hyde Park. In this location it was used more permanently. In 1936 the Crystal Palace caught fire and was destroyed. The Sydney Exhibition building in the Botanic Gardens was also destroyed by fire 4 years later. The gates of the main entrance remain. A small remnant of the building are remains of stonework incorporated into the restaurant in the Botanic Gardens. The Australian exhibits went to the Museum of Arts and Sciences in Mary Ann Street.


The Royal Alexandria building in London burnt down before the exhibition started. In 1892 in Chicago – the Colombian exhibition was very large. In Australia, they grew out of state exhibitions and agricultural exhibitions.


Following the Crystal Palace, the term Exhibition was used (Exposition in America) for these large exhibitions but now is used more widely.


The Eifel Tower was built as a temporary structure for the 1879 exhibition for the centenary of the French revolution. Also, to demonstrate prefabrication. By 1900 the cost of demolishing the Eifel tower was untenable and radio and telecommunications repurposed the tower.
Other items presented included:-
• A Medal for the Colombian exhibition 1892. Columbus on one side. In an embossed aluminium box.
• A Jam Label. Great exhibitions became a status symbol for many businesses. E.g. on Jam Labels to show prizes won at these exhibitions.
• 2 medals that came out of pianos – reproductions of medals won by the manufacturer.
• Melbourne exhibition medal 1880 – with the older Queen Victoria
• 3 prints of a set of 6 – done by an English printer George Baxter with multicolour printing. Up to 12 or 14 blocks – 1 for each colour. Final block would be for a black outline. He had a stall at the Great Exhibition where he sold prints.
• A print of the exhibition building itself by Baxter
• Commercial letterheads of a locksmith including medals he had won and glass bottle manufacturers in London including medals won.
• A Medal for the British and Indian exhibition in London and guide to the exhibition with a picture of the citation received with the medal.
• Photographs in fold out – 1900 the Universal exhibition in Paris. Both banks of the Seine were cleared for 100s of metres and allocated land to each country. Each country built their own hall. The Trocadero was one of those. The Trocadero has survived.
The Crystal Palace moved from Sydenham to Shepherds Bush –‘ the Great White city’ was made of plaster built as temporary structures in the early 1900s. The tennis courts in Sydney were named after the plaster exhibition halls. Here in Australia the Melbourne Hall built of timber survived through consistent use.
In 1906 the first New Zealand exhibition was held in Christchurch
Launceston exhibition building from 1885 has survived.
Other items presented included
• Entrance tickets for the Columbian exhibition
• Visiting cards with illustrations of the great exhibitions
• Invitation to the Louisiana Purchase centenary exhibition official opening
• Notepaper and postcards from Paris 1900 with exhibition buildings
• Brussels 1958 stamps including the Atomian
• American stamps 1898.
NB NSW had the first commemorative stamps in the world.
• Cards from St Louis exhibition- ‘glow cards’ printed in silver. Other techniques – ‘hold to light’ card with a layer inside with designs which supplemented the design on the front. Others with perforations held to the light so the windows or sun would glow. Mechanical cards also.
• Shares could be bought in exhibitions with free entry.
• Labels from Melbourne of the centenary and the following 5 years.
• Other stamps and money of international exhibitions. Eg. Expo in Japan.
• Book about the exhibition 1979 centenary.
• Catalogue of the 1851 exhibition.
• Book of 1862 arts and crafts exhibition in London.

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