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Prints of Philadelphia

1876 Centennial Exhibition

[ Bird's Eye Views | Main Buildings | Advertising Prints | Souvenirs ]

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As America began to recover from the Civil War, the nation's thoughts turned to its coming Centennial celebration. Though the United States is now one of the most stable countries in the world, in the early days of the nation it was not a clear cut thing that the country would survive as a viable political entity, an uncertainty brought back full-force by the recent conflict that almost tore the United States in half. The nation did survive and as it approached its 100th anniversary, it was entering a period of great expansion geographically and economically. The people of the United States looked forward with great pride, then, to the planned national Centennial Exhibition to be held in Philadelphia in 1876. This Exhibition was a celebration both of the nation's past and its potential for the future.

The enthusiasm for the Centennial led to a great demand for images of the country's history and of the Exhibition itself, a demand met by print publishers with engravings and lithographs showing scenes from the past and images of the planned exhibition sites and buildings. Below is a selection of the views of the Exhibition.

Bird's Eye Views

Among the most popular prints made of the Centennial Exhibition were the bird's eye views showing the layout of the exhibition grounds. These made great take home souvenirs and today they provide us with a sense of the scope and excitement of this grand American celebration.

Wright International Exhibition
"1876. International Exhibition. Fairmount Park, Philadelphia." Philadelphia: E.A. Wright. ca. 1876. 22 x 28 (sight). Engraving by E.A. Wright. Very good condition. Scarce. Framed. Snyder, Mirror of America 91.

As 1876 approached, excitement grew about the forthcoming Centennial Exhibition, to be held in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park. In anticipation of the event, many large prints were issued by a number of firms to be used for advertising, given as gifts, or to be sold as souvenirs. Many prints were issued depicting the large buildings constructed for the exhibition. This lovely print is composed of five vignettes of the major buildings at the Centennial Exhibition. These five buildings are Memorial Hall (Art Gallery), Agricultural Hall, Machinery Hall, Horticultural Hall and the Main Building. Each vignette is surrounded by a decorative engraved frame. At the top of the print is a bald eagle perched on an American shield holding Old Glory and flags of others nations. Large prints rarely survive in good condition, making this print scarce. An example of this print can be found in the collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. $1,500

Syndey Smirke. "Bird's Eye View. International Exhibition. 1876. Fairmount Park, Philadelphia." Philadelphia: Sydney Smirke, 1876. 12 x 20 1/2. Photo-lithograph by Julius Bien. With centerfold as issued. Very good condition.

This print is stated as having been "Projected by Sydney Smirke, from drawings of the architects & engineers of the U.S. Commission." It shows most of the main buildings and structures, but none of the smaller state pavilions, about which Smirke had no information. The view looks over the fairground from the west, with the Schuylkill River shown in the background. To add realism to the image, Smirke adds throngs of visitors on all the boulevards and even some boats and racing shells on the river. $450

Centennial Map Phila
Anon. "Plan of the Grounds and Buildings of the Centennial Exhibition, at Philadelphia, 1876." Washington: Centennial Book Company, 1876. 17 x 23 3/4 (image). Lithograph. Printed in color. Folding map, as issued. Very good condition.

A graphic and colorful map of the Centennial Grounds issued in one of the popular of the guide books sold at the Exhibition and in Philadelphia during the Centennial. This map, intended for practical use by fair-goers, is a mine of information. Each building and path in the Centennial is clearly depicted and numbers with reference to a key in the upper right. Interestingly, the numbers of this key were based on a numbering system used by the Centennial Board of Finance so that they correspond to numbers displayed on the buildings themselves. Also noted are the locations of displays by the difference countries represented at the Exhibition, this information given in a lettered key in the lower right. One of the most informative and visually striking documents from the great Centennial Exhibition. $175

Main Buildings

Machinery HallSpacerAgricultural Hall

Prints by Louis Aubrun. Philadelphia: Centennial Board of Finance, 1874. Published by Thomas Hunter. Tinted lithographs. Ca. 14 x 22 1/2. Some light surface blemishes, but overall very good condition, except as noted.

Large tinted lithographic views of the main buildings for the Centennial International Exhibition were commissioned in 1874 by the Centennial Board of Finance in order to publicize the forthcoming fair, and to raise the money for this ambitious project. The prints were designed to show the impressive main buildings of the exhibition in all their architectural splendor, their huge size highlighted by the milling crowds shown about. The prints were issued and sold separately as souvenirs of what was to become America's first great tourist attraction.

Centennial Exhibition
"1776, Centennial International Exhibition, 1876." New York: H. Schile, 1875. Lithograph. 19 x 25 1/2. Very good condition. This is a nice example of one of the most attractive and interesting of the views of the buildings of the Centennial. New York publisher H. Schile's lithograph combines the various threads of meaning inherent in the Centennial. The center panel of the print shows the proposed main exhibition building in Fairmount Park, flags flying, surrounded by hordes of visitors, and even graced by a ethereal hot air balloon floating above. Above this image in the center is a symbolic figure representing America, holding the flag and flanked by the American eagle, as well as symbols of mechanics and agriculture. Around the center image are panels showing important scenes from American history, including episodes from the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War and the Civil War. Also shown are vignette scenes of Independence Hall and the exhibition's art gallery (present-day Memorial Hall). This print encapsulates, then, the meaning of the Centennial to Americans in 1875-76. Its pleasing appearance, scarcity, and historic interest makes it one of the most desirable of all Centennial prints. $900

Centennial photo-lithographs by Julius Bien.

Unusual examples of broadside prints showing Centennial Exhibition buildings. These prints were copyrighted by Schwartzmann and Pohl, Philadelphia architects. The prints were made by Julius Bien, best known for his chromolithographs after J.J. Audubon. Though soem have condition problems, these are still interesting and attractive images of the exhibition. The emphasis is not on the usual color but on the architecture.

Advertising prints

The publicity generated by the Centennial Exhibition created advertising opportunities for local and national business. One form of advertising was for the name of a business to be printed on a print of the exhibition, which could then be given to clients. These are interesting both as images of the Centennial and as American advertising.

Main Building
Louis Aubrun. "Main Building, International Exhibition. 1876. Fairmount Park, Philadelphia. Philadelphia: Centennial Board of Finance, 1874. Published by Thomas Hunter. Tinted lithograph. Ca. 14 x 22 1/2. Two short, repaired tears at sides. Otherwise, excellent condition. Cf. Prints of Philadelphia: 230.

An advertising version of the Aubrun/Hunter view of the Main Building. This temporary structure was the largest building in the world when built, covering over 20 acres. It was located just in front of the Art Gallery, near the main entrance, and it housed the exhibits of the many nations that were participating in the Centennial. This print has been modified to advertise for Newburger & Hochstadters, wholesale clothiers, 527 Market & 524 Commerce Street. $850


The Centennial Exhibition was one of the greatest tourist attractions of the era, with visitors not just from across the United States, but also from all around the world. With all the tourists and world-wide interest in the exhibition, there were many souvenirs issued.

"Memorial Hall Art Gallery. 1776. Centennial. 1876." Philadelphia, 1876. Cotton bandanna, printed in blue and brown. 19 3/4 x 22 1/2. Somewhat faded. Otherwise, very good condition. Collins, Threads of History: 429.

Souvenir images of the Centennial appeared in many other forms besides prints. These souvenirs ranged from poorly made items to those of considerable quality and beauty. One type of the latter were cotton bandannas upon which were printed views of Exhibition buildings. These colorful kerchiefs were purchased by fair-goers both for practical use and for decorative purposes. As with many types of ephemeral souvenirs, few of these linens have survived. This attractive kerchief depicts the Art Gallery. The image is topped by an eagle with the United States shield and surrounded by a striped border with stars. $375

Centennial Bandanna
"International Exhibition. 1876. Philadelphia." Philadelphia, 1876. Cotton bandanna, printed in purple. 21 3/4 x 26. Some light stains and wear in margins. Overall, very good condition.

A more elaborate bandanna, this shows images of three of the main exhibitions halls; Main Building, Horticultural Building, and the Art Gallery. Rondels grace the corners, with a portrait of Washington in the top left, Grant in the top right, and shields in the bottom corners. $450

Horticultural HallSpacerArt Gallery

Prints from Thompson Wescott's Centennial Portfolio. Philadelphia: Thomas Hunter, 1876. 4 1/2 x 8 1/2. Tinted lithographs. Some smudging in margins. Very good condition, except as noted.

From a group of images of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Only two of the buildings are still standing from the exhibition, which celebrated the American centennial. This exhibition was one of the greatest tourist attractions of the era, with visitors not just from across the United States, but also from all around the world. With all the tourists and world-wide interest in the exhibition, there were many souvenirs issued. One of the most detailed and best produced was Thompson Westcott's Centennial Portfolio. This deluxe volume included charming lithographs with decorative borders of all the buildings in the exhibition.

Main Buildings

State Buildings

Industry Buildings

Foreign Buildings


GoGo to description of complete Centennial Portfolio for sale


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©The Philadelphia Print Shop Last updated May 19, 2021