Expositions and fairs make an interesting collecting topic

May 12, 2008, 10 AM

By Janet Klug

Those of us who collect what I call "everything that appeals to me" have at least one distinct advantage over specialists. It is pretty easy to find something that qualifies for the collection, and that makes attending a stamp show especially fun. Almost everything in the dealers' stocks has a potential place in the collection.

I acquired the German cover shown in Figure 1 at a recent stamp show. The Art Nouveau design of the March 5, 1920, Mercury machine cancellation appeals to me. Art Nouveau style is instantly recognizable by its fluid, organic lines. It had a relatively short life of about 25 years, from the 1890s to about 1915.

Ironically, by the time this cancellation was used in Leipzig, Germany, Art Nouveau ("new art") was considered old fashioned.

I wondered what the "Leipziger Mustermesse" of the slogan cancellation was.

A search on the Internet brought a quick answer. A mustermesse is a trade fair, and Leipzig has been hosting its fair since 1165. It grew from a simple fair displaying the works of craftsmen to an industrial showcase that attracts business from all over the world.

The fair's logo, a pair of stacked "M"s, have appeared on many postage stamps including the German Democratic Republic 10-pfennig dark blue stamp (Scott 253) from 1955 shown in Figure 2. This stamp shows optical goods: a German-made camera, microscope and lenses. The stacked "M" logo is shown in the lower left corner and also less obviously in the upper right corner on the wall in the background.

Finding this trade fair-related cover made me think of other philatelic material that has been issued over the years to promote trade fairs and world expositions.

My hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, had a series of industrial expositions in the late 19th century. These became more elaborate over time, and many of the city's biggest businesses helped promote the fair by using envelopes with advertising for the expositions printed on the back, such as the one advertising the Cincinnati 11th Industrial Exposition of 1883 shown in Figure 3.

Fairs and expositions have been a popular collecting specialty.

Some collectors concentrate on just one fair, such as the World's Columbian Exposition that took place in Chicago, Ill., in 1893. This world's fair generated a host of collectibles.

One of my favorites is the 1¢ U.S. Grant postal card (Scott UX10) issued by the U.S. Post Office Department in 1891.

The message side of the postal card, shown in Figure 4, offers a view of the Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Pavilion.

The design printed on the message side by the American Lithographic Co. makes this a souvenir of the world's fair. The sender of the card wrote of her fair visit, "it is greater and grander than anything I ever dreampt of."

This postal card is not an expensive item. It is postmarked Chicago, Sept. 27, 1893.

The Pan American Exposition took place in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1901 and used machine slogan cancellations well in advance of the fair to publicize it. An illustrated advertising cover from the huge Larkin Soap factory is shown in Figure 5. It bears a Barry machine cancel applied in 1899 that advertises the upcoming fair.

Of course, in addition to machine slogan cancellations, both the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition and the 1901 Pan American Exposition had commemorative stamps, cacheted covers and cards, as well as advertising labels without postal validity (known by collectors as cinderellas.)

All of these are worthy collectibles, but U.S. stamps commemorating the early expositions are expensive. It would be nice if everyone could afford the $5 Columbus stamp (Scott 245) from the Columbian Exposition (shown in Figure 6), a $2 Mississippi River Bridge stamp (293) from the Trans-Mississippi Exposition, or one of the inverted center error stamps from the 1901 Pan American Exposition, but most of us can't.

Isn't it nice that there are covers, postmarks and other collectibles for those of us who want to collect postal souvenirs from fairs and expositions?