QUESTION: My grandmother gave me this item from the 1939 New York World’s Fair, which I am guessing is a jewelry box. It had been in her possession since she visited the Fair. If you would have any information it would be greatly appreciated.
ANSWER: Corporations, makers of fine china, novelties, and toys made over 25,000 different souvenir items for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Each represented an exhibit or the general theme of the Fair and gave fairgoers something to take back home. There were plates and puzzles, pencil sharpeners and typewriters, and even birthday candles in the shape of the Fair’s symbols—the Trylon and Perisphere.
As the Great Depression came to a close, the optimism expressed by the 1939 New York World’s Fair gave our nation hope. It was not only a look into the future, but a way to let people know about the accomplishments that had been made, even as many fought poverty and starvation.
The 1939–40 New York World's Fair, which covered 1,216 acres of Flushing Meadows, was the second most expansive American world's fair of all time, exceeded only by St. Louis's Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904. Sixty foreign countries participated in it, and over 44 million people attended its exhibits during its two-season run. This Fair was the first exposition to be based on the future, with an opening slogan of "Dawn of a New Day", and it allowed all visitors to take a look at "the world of tomorrow."
World’s fairs have introduced new ideas to the world ever since the first one held in London in 1851. They were momentous events and visitors to them wanted things that would make their experience at a fair memorable and lasting. Souvenirs of these fairs not only offer a look at how people lived at the time but also give us a snapshot of history.
Modern marketing techniques had been in practice since before the turn of the century. Everyone knows Coca Cola’s bold ads featuring everything from pin-up girls to Santa Claus. Marketing the New York World’s Fair wasn’t to be any different. While radio was common, television was not, so one of the ways companies advertised was through samples and giveaways. The souvenirs of the 1939 Fair provided ample opportunities for them to tout their wares to a public recently freed from the bonds of the Great Depression.
Fiesta made plates depicting a potter at his wheel, there were numerous types of hand-painted Nippon ware to choose from, and there were even knockoffs of Wedgwood and Lalique. RCA made a commemorative radio, Remington offered a portable typewriter, and Macy’s sold Dutch Girl dolls. Lighters, compacts, and ashtrays were also popular, as were coins, pins, buttons, badges, and pocket knives.
The variety of souvenirs and items from World's Fair events is seemingly endless—everything from dainty handkerchiefs to trivets. Even the most avid collector is sure to find a never-before-seen piece from time to time.
The fair opened on April 30, 1939, with 260,000 people in attending. This date coincided with the 150th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration in Lower Manhattan as the first president of the United States.
To show off the exhibits in the best possible way, the New York World’s Fair planners divided it into themed zones, such as the Transportation Zone. the Communications and Business Systems Zone, the Food Zone, and the Government Zone. While there were general souvenirs of the entire Fair, each zone and pavilions within it had their own special ones.
Planners chose blue and orange, the colors of New York City, as the official colors of the Fair, so many souvenirs bear these colors. Only the Trylon and Perisphere were white. Avenues stretching out into the zones from the Theme Center featured rich colors that changed the further out they went from the center.
Each day at the fair was a special theme day, for which the Fair Corporation issued special souvenirs, including buttons, postage stamps, and first day covers, cancelled at the event honoring that special day. The fair opened on April 30, 1939, with 260,000 people in attending. This date coincided with the 150th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration in Lower Manhattan as the first president of the United States. So this day had its share of appropriate souvenirs.
Some of the more popular pavilions included that of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. The railroads were another prominent exhibitor at the Fair, as well as A T&T and IBM. And each participating country, including France, had a pavilion. Most likely this jewelry box came from the French pavilion since Art Nouveau, the style of the box, was a decidedly French creation.
For more information on souvenirs of the 1939 New York World’s Fair, please read
“Souvenirs from the 1939 New York World's Fair Highly Collectible” and “1939 New York World’s Fair Lives On Through Collectibles.”