Many of you may know of my interest in the Charleston Exposition - the would-be world's fair held in Charleston, SC from December of 1901 through May of 1902. While I have many different pieces of exonumia issued and sold at the fair including admission tickets, employee passes, so-called dollars, award medals, encased cents, elongated cents, and celluloid badges, I have never encountered any trade tokens.... that is until recently. I had long thought the chances were high that some type of "good for" token would eventually come to light, perhaps an admission token or even a ride token issued by the miniature railroad which snaked its way over the grounds. I believe I was finally proved right by a pair of tokens I recently acquired from a Virginia coin dealer. While I cannot prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the tokens were used in Charleston, I can show that they were issued by one of the Midway concessions that moved itself from exposition to exposition and set up for business at the fair in Charleston.
Photograph of gondolas and canal at Venice in America concession, 1901 Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, NY
Venice in America was one of a number of "ethnically-oriented" concessions which plied their wares at the expositions of the early 20th century. Two others, among many, were Fair Japan and the Streets of Cairo. All three featured architecture reminiscent of their particular geographical namesake, as well as employees dressed in regional garb, and, of course, ethnic cuisine. The Venice in America concession also featured gondola rides meant to remind fairgoers of the picturesque canals of the quaint Italian city. The concession had a large presence at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY as well as at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. The Charleston Exposition opened right on the heels of the Pan-American Expo and many of the concession owners at the Buffalo venue simply packed up and moved to the more southerly clime when things closed down in New York. Venice in America made the move to Charleston, and so did Fair Japan, the Streets of Cairo, and Roltair's Darkness & Dawn.
Photograph of Venice in America Restaurant and employees, 1901-02 Charleston Exposition, Charleston, SC
Pictured below is one of two tokens I recently obtained from the Venice in America concession. The 29mm aluminum token is inscribed as follows: VENICE IN AMERICA / 25 / RESTAURANT // 25. The second token (not pictured) is similar in style and inscription but features a 10 (cents) denomination on a 24mm aluminum planchet.
Photograph of Venice in America Restaurant token, 29mm, aluminum
I believe the pair of tokens was most probably issued for use in Buffalo at the restaurant that was part of the Venice in American concession at the Pan-American Expo. However, I also believe that it is likely that they were used subsequently in Charleston. I stated earlier that the Venice in America concession moved from Buffalo to Charleston at the closing of the Pan-American Expo on November 2, 1901. It is not a long stretch of the imagination to believe that the tokens made the trip to Charleston along with all the other restaurant paraphernalia for the opening there just one month later. It sure would be nice for some relic hunter to dig up one of these tokens in downtown Charleston. That would certainly prove me right about matters, but until then I think I've made a pretty good argument for their inclusion in a collection of South Carolina tokens or Charleston Expo memorabilia.
Copyright 2009 by Tony Chibbaro.
World's Fairs by Erik Mattie, Princeton Architectural Press, 1998.
Charleston and the Exposition, Illustrated by A.S. Salley, Jr., Robert Allan Reid, Publisher, 1902.
If you collect or have a casual interest in South Carolina tokens or tokens issued by cotton mills, lumber companies, or other types of businesses, you may want to purchase my book, South Carolina Tokens and its three supplements. To read a description of these standard references, please click on this link: Books.
Token or Medal of the Month Main Page
A Short History of Token Use in South Carolina
South Carolina Trade Tokens for Sale - Page 1
South Carolina Trade Tokens for Sale - Page 2
Other South Carolina Exonumia for Sale
Trade Tokens from Other States for Sale
eBay Auction Listings
South Carolina Stereoviews
The Charleston Exposition
Links to Other Sites