By Morgan Little
Writing about his visit to the Centennial Exhibition of 1876, a grand celebration of America’s 100th birthday, Mark Twain had this to say, “I went there in July, & staid nearly a whole day; then I got discouraged & returned home. I became satisfied that it would take me two, or possibly three days to examine such an array of articles with anything like just care & deliberation.”
One of the hundreds of deliriously fantastic mementos created and sold before spectators’ eyes at the great Exhibition was a small Abraham Lincoln pressed frosted glass bust made by Gillinder & Sons.
The Philadelphia glass-manufacturing company wowed the crowd, having erected a Glass Exhibition Building on site to demonstrate the process of making glass-ware for domestic use. The world had never before seen such a display of American culture and industry; it was an unprecedented, awe-inspiring showcase of American invention.
The New York Times reported:
“He can see here how paper is made, how newspapers are printed, how glass is manufactured…In the category of complete expositions of useful industries, the exhibition of the manufacture of glass in the glass works erected by Messrs. Gillinder & Sons, of the Franklin Fling Glass Works, Philadelphia, on Fountain avenue, near the western end of Machinery Hall, is not only an attraction to multitudes of the visitors to the Exhibition, but is very creditable to the enterprise and spirit of the firm in question. Messrs. Gillinder have a complete factory in full operation…..Among the great variety of articles made in these model glass works are busts, in opaque glass, of Washington, Franklin, Lincoln, Grant, and other national celebrities. They are molded, and yet are most excellent likenesses. They have all the appearance of the finest Parian marble.”
This miniature souvenir bust of Lincoln, the embodiment of the Nation, manufactured and etched on site for the momentous occasion “1876 Centennial Exhibition” and “A LINCOLN” would have been a special keepsake for any visitor – a reminder of American ingenuity and a keepsake bearing the image of a national icon.
The small bust created for the Centennial Exhibition in 1876 is a on loan from fellow National Trust Historic Site, Villa Finale, as part of the new exhibition, “A Deep and Subtle Expression: Lincoln in Sculpture – Works from National Trust Collections.”
The exhibition is located in the Special Exhibit Gallery on the main floor of the Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center at President Lincoln’s Cottage. The exhibition will be open daily through December 19, 2008, during regular visitor hours.
Pictured: A. Lincoln, Gillinder & Sons 1876. The National Trust for Historic Preservation