The Great Exhibition of 1851


The Great Exhibition of 1851 lasted only six months, and though many exhibitions followed it, the grandeur and allure of this first exhibition could not be rivaled. As thousands of people streamed into London from all over the world for the grand display of the Exhibition, they desired ways to commemorate, share, and represent their experiences of this historical event. One tangible way they did this was through the purchase and collection of souvenirs.

As Susan Stewart writes in her book On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, “the souvenir reduces the public, the monumental, and the three-dimensional into the miniature, that which can be enveloped by the body, or into a two-dimensional representation, that which can be appropriated within the privatized view of the individual subject” (137-138). This miniaturizing and privatizing helps an individual hold on to, and perhaps enhance, the personal experience of the immense public spectacle. She goes on to say, “temporally, the souvenir moves history into private time” (138). The movement into private time allows the event to live on in perpetuity. It is no surprise, then, that many of the objects that still exist from the Exhibition are souvenirs, keepsakes, gifts, or representations of the experience of the Crystal Palace.

Our digital project explores what Victorians deemed most worthy of memorializing and commemorating from the experience of the Great Exhibition through the lens of the souvenir.


Below is a collection of souvenirs organized to demostrate the relationship between arifacts and their experiential representation of the Great Exhibition. Click on each image to display the artifact's tags. Then to view similar items, click on the individual tags.

We have highlighted several of the souvenirs through in-depth close readings to provide possible interpretations that comment on their significance. Find these pages on the top navigation bar or through the hyperlinked titles underneath the individual items.