Columbus, Coins, Ships, and Controversy in 1890s America—Peter van Alfen

Dr. Peter van Alfen discusses topics surrounding the Columbian Exposition of 1892-93. In recent years Christopher Columbus and Columbus Day have become quite controversial, to such an extent, in fact, that throughout much of 2020 barricades were set up around Columbus Circle in New York City to protect the monument from vandalism, while the explorer’s statue in Central Park had 24/7 police protection. Undoubtedly, the height of Columbus’ esteem in the US was in 1892-93, the years the Columbian Exposition was held in Chicago, organized ostensibly to celebrate Columbus’ landfall in the Caribbean 400 years before, but really a stupendous display of fin de siècle art, architecture, and technology.

This Money Talks will explore the origins of the Exposition and Columbus’ popularity in 19th century America (and subsequent downfall in the 20th), the ANS’s vast holdings of coins, medals, and tokens from the fair and the disputes between artists and officials over the production of some items. Also discussed will be material associated with the often overlooked New York City Columbian Celebration and Naval Review that kicked off the festivities and placated New Yorkers to some degree for their loss to Chicago for the honor of hosting the Exposition.