English publishers William Robert Dickinson (1815-1887), Lowes Cato Dickinson (1819-1908) and Gilbert Bell Dickinson (1825-1908) received a royal commission to compile this colorful folio commemorating Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations held in Hyde Park, London May to October, 1851. The folio includes 55 chromolithographic plates depicting the building and exhibitions of the fair reproduced from paintings by English watercolorists and lithographers Joseph Nash (1809-1878) and Louis Haghe (1806-1885) and Scottish painter David Roberts (1796-1864). The accompanying text provides accounts of the exhibition hall, select domestic and foreign displays, and events associated this first international world’s fair. The frontispiece is an image of the glass-cast iron exhibition hall (nicknamed the Crystal Palace), designed by landscape designer Joseph Paxton (1803-1865) and structural engineer Charles Fox (1810-1874). The building, consisting of 1,000 iron columns supported 2,224 trellis girders and 30 miles of guttering and sheets of cast plate glass, was prefabricated and erected at the site in less than one year.  A dramatic multi-storey glass-cast iron barrel-vault spanning the width and dividing the 990,000 square foot rectangular structure is at the central entrance portal to the space as seen in the image here.   

More than fifty scenes –complete with figures in period costume– illustrate a few of the more than 14,000 displays at this fair. One will see exotic objects displayed from faraway lands, such as China, India, and Tunisia. Other displays included luxury items, such as the finest porcelains from France.  There were also demonstrations of new machines and manufacturing processes, such as a paper folding machine and one demonstrating the automatic weaving process. There were also exhibitions of raw materials, such as minerals, furs, and woods from Canada and the United States. More than two-thirds of the displays, however, promoted British products of all kinds. The fair was visited in the six month period by six million people.  The book recreates the experience of being at this monumental event of the nineteenth century. The Crystal Palace Exhibition not only became the model for many later world expositions, it was also the forerunner of the modern museum.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *