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  • Writer's pictureUrso

Memorabilia: Keeping the Expo Alive After Closing Day

(Note: Urso originally published this post on November 14, 2011, as part of a collaboration with Expo 2012 Yeosu. We're publishing it here posthumously. The original post can be accessed here)

They’re in attics and drawers around the world. They’re also in museums spanning the globe. Each time a world’s fair is held, millions want to grab a piece of history or just preserve a memory. They’re world’s fair souvenirs.

It’s hard to imagine a visit to an expo without picking up an item or two marking your visit at some point. Having been to eight world’s fairs thus far and becoming a bit of an expo collector, I’ve amassed a (perhaps embarrassingly) large collection of memorabilia. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend going to quite that extreme, but giving some thought to why you want to collect may help you choose items that are the most valuable and meaningful, either to yourself or others.

Ephemera: Tools of the Visit

Going to an expo, you need to pay your way in, decide what it is you want to see, and find your way around once you get there. So, it’s not surprising that a great deal of expo memorabilia is the ephemera that makes all that possible. Tickets, guidebooks, brochures, and maps make up some of the most collected, and sought after, world’s fair pieces.

They’re also some of the best for reliving your experience years later. Just looking at the items can bring back specific memories of your visit: memorable pavilions, specific events, or even just the whole period in one’s life.

Guidebooks from decades past not only offer a glimpse into those events, but also let us witness what folks thought was important at the time.

Shown above are guidebooks (1904 St. Louis, 1967 Montreal, 1984 New Orleans, 1993 Taejon, 1998 Lisbon, and 2000 Hanover), maps (1939-1940 San Francisco, 1964-1965 New York, 1967 Montreal, and 1982 Knoxville), and tickets (Chicago Day at 1893 Chicago, a one-day ticket from 1982 Knoxville, and a season pass from 2005 Aichi) from the author’s collection.

World Expo Traditional Collectables

Traditional Collectables

When you think of memorabilia in general, there are the usual items people associate with collecting and these items are certainly represented at world’s fairs. Coins, medallions and stamps are popular items. But, in certain parts of the globe, commemorative spoons are displayed with pride. Pins are a favorite and many individual pavilions will feature their pavilion’s logo or seal on a lapel pin. In recent years, postcards seem to have fallen out of favor.

In addition to the medallions and first day issue envelopes shown in the photos above is a photo displaying the many items collected at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis as displayed at the Missouri History Museum. Note the extensive spoon collection!

World Expo Mascots

Passports and Mascots

In a previous article, I mentioned the expo phenomenon of passport stamp collecting. The items have become a world’s fair tradition and can become some of the most personal since they track your progress across the site. Decades later, I’ve been able to use them to retrace my steps.

Expo Mascots

Since 1984, world’s fairs have created mascots. Recently, even some individual pavilions create their own. Geared mostly toward younger people, but enjoyed by adults, too, they appear on all kinds of items such as plush toys, T-shirts, key chains, banks, and even this ceramic collectable shown above, commemorating the closing ceremony of Expo 2005 in Aichi, Japan. I outlined the history of expo mascots in a previous article.

Expo 1986 Vancouver Souvenir

Internal Ephemera

Here’s a category that’s perhaps left to the expo aficionado: items created by the exposition for internal and industry use. Not everyone needs an Expo 86 Master Control Standards notebook perhaps, but I can be fairly assured I’m the only one on my block with one. I can thank a certain online auction site for making items like this all too available to expo fanatics.

Urso at World Expos

The Most Meaningful and Unique Souvenir: Photos and Video

Of all the items I’ve collected in 30 years, my most treasured are the photos and video I’ve collected. I’ve captured thousands and thousands of images over the decades. They represent moments in time that won’t happen again and no one else experienced exactly the same way. I think it’s safe to say that it’s the most universal of capturing such memories, as well.

With the advent of digital technology, no inch of an expo site goes unphotographed these days. I imagine anthropologists digging through millions of digital files to research Expo 2012 centuries from now. Conjure in your mind a world in which we had had this technology in the late 19th Century when the first world’s fairs were held!

Shown above are photos of the author at age 17 at the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition in New Orleans and more recently at Expo 2010 in Shanghai. If you’re curious about my other world’s fair photographs, most are archived online on’s Flickr site.

Everything Else: Too Much to Name

When writing this, I was constantly reminded of the thousands of expo items I’ve seen collected over the years – walking canes, wacky 1980’s visors, road signs, duffel bags, African masks, Viewmaster reels, table flags, license plates, paintings made by robots, bicycle helmets, preview newsletters, audio recordings printed on postcards, and even Olympic medals (1900 Paris and 1904 St. Louis) – just to name a few. There are just too many to name since world’s fairs represent the world and the world, quite frankly, has lots of stuff!

So, what will you collect from Expo 2012?

Oh yeah, and does anyone have a good idea for how to store all this stuff? My office is getting quite full!

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