Exposition Cards   1873-1898


There were many expositions held in the post-Civil War years to highlight specific regions and promote commerce with them. The 1873 Interstate Industrial Exposition in Chicago, held after the great fire, was the first to issue cards but little attention was given to them. The focus of these early cards was on advertising and few examples remain. It wasn’t until an image of the Eiffel Tower was printed on a souvenir card for the Paris Exposition of 1889 that the world took notice. By 1893 one hundred and twenty different images of Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition were printed on government postal cards by distributors. Privately printed, these exposition cards required two cents postage but it didn’t hurt sales as hundreds of thousands were purchased. The most notable of these cards were the official chromolithographs of Charles W. Goldsmith. This demand inspired similar cards to be made the following year for the California Mid-Winter Exposition in San Francisco, followed by Cotton States in Atlanta, the Tennessee Centennial in Nashville, and Trans-Mississippi in Omaha. After Chicago, the sets produced were in smaller quantities and today are quite rare. The image usually took up a relatively small portion of the front to leave plenty or room to write a message. Montages of multiple scenes surrounded with decorative flourishes were very fashionable on both cards and illustrations of this period.

Photographs were another popular item sold at expositions. While their subjects were as carefully controlled as those printed on official postcards they often had great differences with them. Possibly the most popular image to be sold at the Columbian Exposition of 1893 was not found within the official postcard set but on a card photo of the performer Little Egypt. Her talent consisted of what we would now call a belly dance at the exhibit A Street in Cairo. While many were horrified by this unchristian act, the great draw it had speaks for itself. It was a permissible representation of a woman at the cutting edge of accepted female roles because of its lack of nudity and presentation by a non-white. This trend of depicting sexualized women was continued and can be best be seem in the many photos and postcards made of performers and actresses. While these women were largely looked down upon for their independence, postcards of them would be highly sought after.

Use the link below for a more compleate history of this period.


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