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Showcase Britain

Britain at the Vienna World Exhibition 1873


Christina Baird

Showcase Britain explores the diverse aspects of British participation in the Vienna World Exhibition (Weltausstellung) of 1873. The exhibition covered a vast spectrum of human endeavour and achievement. The British involvement encompassed not only the national submission but also the British individuals who visited and contributed to the displays.

The book offers a snapshot of British aspirations and commerce at a singular point in history through the lens of the exhibition. The central theme is explored through various perspectives: the ceramic collections, the Fine Art collections, British connections with China, the act of collecting, the visitor experience, and the mobility and re-use of collections, with particular reference to the display from India. The British submission is compared and contrasted throughout with that of the government of Japan, a newcomer to international shows, whose collections presented a competitor to Britain’s and a focus for British acquisition and emulation. Finally, the exhibition is viewed in the wider context of international exhibitions held in London in the following decade.

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Chapter 1: ‘With No Maimed Rites’: The Opening of the Vienna World Exhibition 1873


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‘With No Maimed Rites’: The Opening of the Vienna World Exhibition 1873

‘Topics of the Week’1

The worthy Viennese, we fear, just now must regard their Exhibition with very mingled feelings, for is it not the symbol, and in one degree the cause, of the speculation which has made havoc on their Bourse; and where, save for a stray Prince or two, and the exhibitors themselves, is the host of strangers who were to make fortunes of great and small in the Imperial city? The Austrians, in fact, are paying the penalty of those who make haste to become rich. The late panic has an ugly look. It seems, indeed, to have been more akin to South Sea or Mississippi Bubbles than to the financial crises of later times; to have been the result, not of the over-inflation of trade originally sound, but of an access of gambling mania. Unsound companies were recklessly or fraudulently got up, and the losses, as usual, have fallen less on the promoters than on the unwary public. Even the suspension of the Bank Act has not quite restored confidence, and in the present distrust, men almost begin to ask whether the seeming progress of the Cis-Leithan kingdom of 1866 has indeed been real. But Austria with her native resources can resist severe shocks. Commerce has hardly been seriously affected, and, after all, the worst will probably be summed up in the ruin of...

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