Although other nations had hosted exhibitions, The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations held in London in 1851 at the Crystal Palace is recognized as the first World’s Fair and demonstrated the might of the Industrial Age. Although Great Britain was the economic giant of that time a fledging United States demonstrated in their exhibits a flair for ingenuity and technological creativity that gave notice of a rising economic power.
International exhibitions celebrating economic growth or significant occasions became very popular during the Victorian Age. In the U.S. the Colombian Exposition of 1893 celebrating the 400th anniversary of the “discovery" of America by Columbus was a great economic success, with 150,000 daily attendance over its six-month run, and was the first introduction to many Americans of the southwest of the nation including the art and culture of Native American tribes.
The 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition was widely known as the St. Louis World’s Fair. For their exhibit New Mexico, still a territory at that time, built a replica of a turquoise mine and $30,000 was spent in its creation which would be over $1MM in todays dollars. M.W. Porterfield, a druggist from Silver City, headed the effort. The full story is contained in Turquoise in America Part One, The Great American Turquoise Rush 1890-1910.
As part of their promotion of turquoise Porterfield offered, as a souvenir curio, a small spoon with a small cab of turquoise in the top, Souvenir spoons were a collectible during the late Victorian Age and, although trends were changing by 1904, they remained popular.
Although all turquoise mining is considered hard rock mining on lode claims, we see an acknowledgement to popular opinion with the placer miners gold pan used to sluice gold from the stream of water used in placer mining, on the top of the spoon. The sky blue non matrix stone shows the only turquoise that was used in the Victorian style jewelry of that time. That would soon change.
In 1904 The Great American Turquoise Rush was at its height yet fashion trends were changing and following a financial collapse in 1907 and the resulting recession of 1908, the turquoise trade gradually came to a halt by around 1910. It would take the creation of a new market, southwest tourism, and a rising interest in Native American jewelry to revive the trade. That story is told in Turquoise in America Part Two 1910-1990.
Mike Ryan II