The Great Exhibition of 1851

Selections from the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library

Dickinson’s Comprehensive Pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851, Dickinson Brothers, London, 1854.

Dickinson's Comprehensive Pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851, Dickinson Brothers, London, 1854.


The Great Exhibition of 1851, featuring the Crystal Palace, was the first of the international expositions that became all the rage in the latter part of the century and one of the most spectacular events to take place in Britain in the 1800s. Held in London, the exposition attracted some 14,000 exhibitors, who occupied the Crystal Palace's 990,000 square feet of floor space. The grandeur of the Crystal Palace and the exposition's diverse displays are revealed for the modern reader's enjoyment in Dickinson's Comprehensive Pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Both the exposition and this published account were intended to be encyclopedic in their presentation of the countries of the world and their cultures, resources, industries, and products at that moment in history. There is written commentary on every aspect of the exposition, and the volume's fifty-five large chromolithographic plates are visual documentation of the wonders that drew more than six million visitors.

Among the Great Exhibition's most amazing attractions was the Crystal Palace itself. The modular, wrought-iron and glass structure soared skyward to an interior height of 408 feet, allowing the incorporation of large trees in the landscaping of the central corridor. As Dickinson's pictures of the Crystal Palace illustrate, the extraordinary size of the building, the glass walls, and the careful placement of the foliage blurred the boundaries between interior and exterior space.

The Crystal Palace was a mark of British wealth and accomplishment, and the international exhibition it housed provided a preview of the global industrialization that would characterize the rest of the century.

After the Great Exhibition ended, the Crystal Palace was dismantled and rebuilt at Sydenham Hill, where it served as a venue for concerts, exhibitions, and other public entertainments until it was damaged beyond repair by fire in 1936.

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