Come One, Come All, to the World's Fair!

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  • March 29, 2018

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Once again, Gray’s auctioneers is proud to host a wide variety of memorabilia and collectibles from the historic World’s Fair exhibitions, with another slew of souvenirs and curiosities from the 1939 “World of Tomorrow” New York Exhibition in particular.  This particular expo famously featured the monumental Trylon and Perisphere, two large modernist buildings connected by what was at the time the world’s longest escalator.  While the buildings themselves were unfortunately broken down to be turned into artillery shells during World War II, their legacy lives on in their depiction across a wide variety of posters, travel guides and souvenir merchandise from the exposition now up for auction this month at Gray’s, including the painted wood and metal form lamps built in the shape of the iconic buildings in Lot 145.

In addition to the array of smaller world’s fair branded items from the 1939 exhibition, Lot 47 contains perhaps the authoritative volume on 1893 exposition, held in Chicago to commemorate the quadricentennial anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the Americas.  Volumes IV-IX of the 1893 “Book of the Fair” consist of five leather bound folios containing photograuves and illustrations depicting that fairs’ celebration.  This set is a brilliant artifact for any collector interested in The World’s Fair, American History, or simply in gaining a glimpse into how people saw the world on the cusp of the transformational 20th century.

Also hailing from the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition is Lot 36, a stunning set of nine Libbey glass peachblow rose bowls, creamers and a lovely glass artifact in the shape of a pear.  Not only would any of these gorgeous pink pieces make a marvelous centerpiece, but they’re a bona fide part of history.  If you’re looking for a wonderful complement to this set, Lot 37 contains a similar collection of nine blown glass serving items from the same expo in a cool blue.

One of the most precious items in this month’s auction comes from the Exposition Universelle held in Paris in 1903.  Lot 53 contains an 18kt. Yellow Gold Repeating Chronograph Pocket Watch with nickel plated jeweled movement, overcoil hairspring chiming via jeweled hammers on two-coiled steel gongs, three-tier enamel dial with Roman numerals, steel hands and subsidiary seconds, and a hinged case with an engraved cuvette.  This gorgeous piece is a testament to turn of the century class and craftsmanship like no other. 

For those with a passion for both beautiful glasswork and American history, opening up the auction this month at Gray’s are a number of glass souvenirs from the 1876 Centennial World’s Fair in Philadelphia.  Lot 1 contains 3 opaline glass busts of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Abraham Lincoln, Lot 2 contains 2 larger frosted glass busts of Lincoln and Washington, Lot 3 contains another large frosted glass bust of Lincoln together with a smaller bust of Shakespeare, Lot 5 contains 3 frosted glass paperweights Depicting a Boy and Dog, a Reclining Lion and Ruth the Gleaner, and Lot 7 contains 1 frosted, colored and clear glass shoe each, all produced by the Gillinder & Sons glass company.  The company was established in Philadelphia in 1861 by William Thynne Gillinder, an English émigré fleeing a poor market for glassworkers in his home country.  Finding that the economic situation was not meaningfully better in America, GIllinder decided to start his own factory, which by 1867 had become Philadelphia’s largest.  In 1876, Philadelphia was chosen as the location for that year’s World’s fair, in celebration of the nation’s centennial and also as a demonstration of America’s recovery from the Civil War.  As part of the fair, Gillinder went so far as to build an exhibition glass factory, where fairgoers could purchase “Centennial” branded souvenirs of great figures from American history, such as tableware, vases, and busts like those up for auction at Gray’s.  These souvenirs continued to sell for years after the close of the fair and have remained valuable collector’s items ever since, while the Philadelphia factory remains in operation today under the control of a fifth generation of Gillinders.

For fans of vintage photography, Lot 111 contains a variety of vintage cameras and photographs from the 1933 “Century of Progress” exhibition in Chicago.  Included in the set are two Agfa Ansco box cameras (one in the original box), a toy box camera, two FotoReel stereoscopes (both in original boxes), a Tru-Vue stereoscope in original box with Tru-Vue film of Sally Rand, an Allied Products Co. stereoscope in original box, an unmarked stereoscope, two packages of film (4 exposures each), a photograph album and a number of different photographs of the fair.  This is an amazing package for anyone fascinated by the evolution of cameras or who would like a more personal glimpse of the 1933 exposition.  

While unrelated to the World’s Fair, Lots 224-231 nonetheless contain valuable pieces of Americana pertaining to the development of the American film industry.  Each lot contains a variety of memorabilia related to early silent film star Tom Mix, considered by and large to be the original Western cowboy leading man.  Beginning his career in 1909 at the age of 29, Mix appeared in 291 films over the course of his 26 year career, only nine of which were talkies.  Mix’s screen persona proved a huge influence on future generations of Western stars, including USC football player Marion Morrison, to whom Mix granted his entrance into Hollywood.  When a football injury forced Morrison to drop out of school, Tom Mix helped him to find work moving props on studio backlots.  Morrison climbed the Hollywood ladder and eventually began his own acting career, becoming a superstar in his own right under the name John Wayne.  While only about 10% of Tom Mix’s films have survived into the modern day, the breadth and scope of his popularity during his heyday can be keenly felt in the merchandise up for auction at Gray’s, including a variety of advertisements for the Tom Mix Circus, a Western themed rodeo and revue styled after Wild Bill Hickok’s famous rodeo shows.

Gray’s is open for in-person preview April 12 – 15; Monday-Friday 10am – 5pm, Saturday and Sunday 12noon – 4pm. The auction starts at 11am EST on Monday, April 16 with live bidding available at The fully illustrated catalog is now online at


Gray’s Auctioneers & Appraisers are Northern Ohio’s leading licensed auctioneers & appraisers of fine art, antiques, decorative arts, rare books, fine jewelry and antique rugs. A boutique auction house with over two decades of experience in the art business, the experts at Gray’s now offer traditional real estate services.  The specialists at Gray’s have worked with museums, educational institutions, corporations and private collectors to achieve the full value of their collections at auction. Gray’s auctioneers are licensed, insured and bonded in favor of the State of Ohio. Learn more at

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