The 1904 St. Louis World's Fair
Memorabilia of the Fair

1904 W.F. Society

Major displays of 1904 World's Fair memorabilia can be viewed at the Missouri Historical Society's exhibit "Looking Back at Looking Forward", and at the Chatillion-Demenil Mansion, where items from the Meisel collection may be seen.

Mr. Robert Hendershott documented over 2,600 1904 World's Fair memorabilia items in a landmark book he wrote in 1994, titled The 1904 St. Louis World's Fair - The Louisiana Purchase Exposition: Mementos and Memorabilia. You can read about it here: Hendershott Catalog.

In 1904, the attention of America and the entire world turned to St. Louis and the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. St. Louis, then the fourth largest city in the United States, hosted "The Greatest of Expositions" from April 30 to December 1, 1904. By far the largest of the several Victorian-era world's fairs, it occupied over 1,200 acres, including the western half of Forest Park, and commemorated the 1803 purchase of land that more than doubled the size of the United States.

Over twenty million visitors came to the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition to see all the Fairís wondrous exhibits from participating companies, states and nations. On display were the latest manufacturing products and processes, scientific inventions and innovations, agricultural advances, and famous art treasures--and also thousands of Fair souvenirs and advertising products.

The countless souvenir items from the 1904 Fair continue to interest collectors and historians today. Fair memorabilia can be found at antique malls, flea markets, on-line Internet auctions, and local history museums. A catalog of about 2500 Fair memorabilia items was written in 1994 by Fair attendee and collector Robert Hendershott, who attended the Fair when he was 5 years old. Items range from commonplace, inexpensive items to very rare and unusual antiques.

NOTE: The memorabilia items listed in bold/blue are depicted in the pictures below.

Common 1904 World's Fair Souvenirs

  • The most common Fair souvenir is the clear glass 'sandwich' plate, with a lacy edge and embossed back (usually gold-painted) that depicts Festival Hall and the Cascade Gardens. The story is told that if you bought a 10-cent cheese sandwich lunch at a restaurant, you could buy the plate for an extra 10 cents. This is THE #1 most-common piece of Fair memorabilia; usually 5 or more available are available on Internet auction sites at any time.
  • Another popular Fair souvenir was the embossed glass tumbler, showing scenes and buildings from the Fair. The common white milk glass version was often highlighted with colored paint of green, blue, or brown. The tumbler can also be found in either clear or green glass.
  • Post cards of Fair sights and scenes were also common keepsakes, and could be purchased in black and white, color, real photo, glittered, oversize (6" by 9"), or hold-to-light styles. The less common hold-to-light postcards show "highlights" from the cutouts in the card's top layer when held up to a strong light.
  • Pinbacks, medals, and tokens of Fair buildings or events at the Fair were widely sold, used by organizations, or given away as advertisements. The U.S. Mint exhibit in the Government Building minted hundreds of thousands of 'coins' that depicted a map of the Louisiana Purchase on one side, and Jefferson and Napoleon on the reverse.

  • Many Fair visitors also bought souvenir picture booklets. Hundreds of types and styles were available, including small pocket-sized booklets, Daily Programs, real photograph booklets, and large hard cover books, and large, colored Sunday newspaper inserts. Some pictures in pre-fair booklets show artistsí drawings of buildings, with 'clip art' of fake people or fake water in the canals or Grand Basin.
  • Souvenir spoons were very common collectibles of the Victorian era, and are still sold as collectibles today. Several manufactures produced many 'series' of spoons, in various styles and sizes, in either sterling or silver plate, and with ornate handles and bowls--literally hundreds of unique spoons exist. The bowls of the spoons often depict Festival Hall, one of the major 1904 World's Fair 'Palaces', or other buildings. The handles often pictured Thomas Jefferson, a riverboat, the Fair's Louisiana Purchase Monument, symbols of the exploration of the American West, or commemorative words about St. Louis or the World's Fair.
  • Glass, metal, or china souvenir items were also available in a wide range of prices and rarity. Common items included plates, cups, match holders, napkin rings, and many other items. Ruby flash glass often had people's names etched in the red portion to personalize a Fair souvenir. Metal items such as 'tip trays' usually were often embossed with a Fair building, while china items usually had a decal or transfer picture of a Fair building; they were often made in Austria or Germany.

Rare 1904 World's Fair Souvenirs

Wealthy Fair visitors often purchased more expensive items for their home or as souvenirs. Expensive vases, rugs, furniture, fashions, jewelry, and other items from foreign lands could be purchased. They also could purchase more costly and unusual styles of the more common Fair memorabilia.

  • More expensive glass, metal, or china items could be purchased, including jewelry boxes, watch fobs, and commemorative china.
  • Two major volumes of Fair history were produced after the Fair. These vintage books are valued at well over $100, and provide a detailed history and insight of the Fair. Mark Bennitt's book, History of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, is the size of a large family Bible, and contains over 4,000 pictures on nearly 800 pages, and is filled with thousands of facts about the Fair. David R. Francis, the President of the Fair, produced a 2-volume set in 1913 titled The Universal Exposition of 1904. It contains many pictures and countless facts and figures that provide a detailed accounting of the Fair's construction, expenses, income, and exhibits.
  • Metal clocks, inkwell/pen holders (and other variants) were sold at the Fair, typically with a building (such as Festival Hall, the Cascades, even Union Station) or cherubs providing a base and mount for the clock, thermometer, inkwell stand, etc.
  • The Jefferson Guard patrolled throughout the Fairgrounds, serving as both the Fair's security and unofficial 'guides'. St. Louis historians and Fair collectors particularly prize memorabilia from this unique organization, including swords, uniform items, buttons, or other artifacts.
  • Perhaps one of the most sought-after china items produced for the Fair is a lithophane mug. With elaborate script and designs on the outside, the bottom of the mug has an 'embossed' picture of a Fair building and title. When held up to light (perhaps as you finish your drink), it 'glows' with a detailed picture of the building.
  • A particularly rare piece of Fair memorabilia is a padlock with World's Fair designs or words, in any of several styles. Legend has it that some of these locks may have been used to secure Fair buildings on nights and Sundays (when the Fair was closed), but were more likely sold or given away by lock companies who exhibited at the Fair.
  • Commemorative decks of playing cards were produced for the 1904 Fair and are highly valued by collectors. However, a deck of 1904 World's Fair aluminum playing cards (with Joker and aluminum case) is extremely rare, and is a highly sought piece of memorabilia.

At the start of the 20th century, the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair was the grandest gathering of cultures, knowledge, and exhibits the world had ever seen. St. Louisans pass their Fair memorabilia to their children, and seek it out in garage sales, flea markets, antique malls/shows, and the Internet. Today, 1904 Fair memorabilia is still held close to the hearts of most St. Louisans as they fondly remember "The Greatest Fair Ever"!