Souvenirs of the Crystal Palace.

Drawings and written by Fred Peskett


This is the start of a major new series of articles compiled for the Exhibition Study Group Journal which describes and illustrates the souvenirs which were manufactured for both the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the Crystal Palace at Penge Park.

            The Souvenirs can be found in a multitude of different materials, ceramics, plastics, fabrics, wood, paper and card, plaster, glass, tin-plate, steel, copper, brass, ivory, silver and gold, as well as a mixture of several of these materials. Those souvenirs associated with the Great Exhibition were only available for a few months, whereas those for the Penge Crystal Palace were on sale for some eighty-two years, many exhibitions were staged within the Crystal Palace and Grounds, each having their own souvenirs available as a memory of a visit, so there is plenty of scope for many interesting and varied items to be included in the series.

The majority of items to be illustrated will be by drawings, the reason for this is two-fold, (a) finer details can be shown within the drawings and (b) it is far cheaper than by photographs! The majority of the items will be shown “actual size” although there will be instances where the size will be reduced, such as plates, in order that the drawing will fit an A4 sheet, (any change to the actual size of the item will be noted)

The initial articles are compiled from items in my own collection, but is it hoped that members of the Exhibition Study Group who have collection of Great Exhibition and Crystal Palace items can assist by sending me a detailed description, and a photograph or a drawing of any item they would like to see featured.

There is an interesting aspect in relation to the souvenirs associated with the Penge Crystal Palace, this concerns the word “the”. A survey revealed that certain souvenirs (no matter in which medium they are made) can either be “A Present from Crystal Palace”, or “A Present from the Crystal Palace”, this suggests that those souvenirs with the word “the” are specific to the building and grounds, whereas those without a “the” are associated with the area which became known as “Crystal Palace”. Transfer views of the building are known in both wordings!

It is strange that when Mr. Punch coined the name in 1850 as a rather derogatory term for what he called “Prince Albert’s Crystal Palace”, The joke somewhat re-bounded on Mr. Punch, since the name was so apt for Joseph Paxton’s masterpiece, that the name lives on even though the building was destroyed many years ago.

            The first part of the Series features a couple of the more unusual souvenirs from the Crystal Palace in papier-mâché and mixed materials. The next part will be on the souvenir Giant Clay Tobacco Pipes from the Great Exhibition.


Items made from papier-mâché.


            Papier-mâché is a material popular from around 1810 to the 1890’s. it was made using rags and paper which had been mixed with size (a substance similar to glue) then pressed into a mould and left to harden. Many items shown at the Great Exhibitions of 1851 and 1862 were made from this material including fairly large pieces of furniture, such as tables, chairs and cabinets, smaller items like blotters were also produced as souvenirs, many of these had a view of the Great Exhibition Crystal Palace on the front with portions of exotic butterfly wings added to represent iridescent windows. Other substances used for impressing into the mould included nacre (mother-of-pearl) from shell-fish and gold leaf to represent foliage and plant leaves.

The designs using mother-of-pearl have generally survived in a reasonable condition, whereas those with added gold leaf are found in a rather poor state of preservation. Two souvenir small dishes from the Penge Park Crystal Palace are shown below, they date from around 1875. They measure 3¼” diameter by ¾” high. The background is the normal papier-mâché black finish with the plant leaves in gold leaf, the scrolls are white bordered with blue and the wording is black.

            A visit to the Crystal Palace was made complete by the purchase of a souvenir to remind you of a happy day, or as a gift for Mum, Dad, Grandma or a favorite Aunt.


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Items made from Mixed Materials.


            One of the small inexpensive souvenirs available from the shops and stalls in the Crystal Palace was a handy “Sewing Kit”. Several versions of these are known, including the one described and illustrated below. It is made from mixed materials. The carrying case is made from cardboard with a covering of white “Ivorine” on the front and back, Ivorine was a commercially available artificial material made to simulate ivory, the framework on which the front and back are hinged and the ends of the case are made from tin-plate which has been embossed with a cross-hatch on the top and base and a stone-work design on the ends, a carrying handle and a retaining loop for the sides is made from steel rod. Inside there are two hollow metal tubes soldered to the base to hold wooden cotton reels, for black and white cottons, there are two packets of assorted sewing needles and a bodkin, a clip between the cotton reels holds a silver thimble, which is hallmarked as “London 1878”, this may be the date the Sewing Kit was manufactured, although it  is possible it was replaced at some time if the original was lost? (It would seem unlikely that a silver thimble would be in a cheap souvenir) The Ivorine front is impressed with a design and worded “A Present from the Crystal Palace” this is infilled in gold.

            Despite being over a hundred years old the Sewing Kit shows no signs of ever being used! which suggests that it was kept as a memento of the Crystal Palace.

            Another Sewing Kit similar in construction to the one described above but of an earlier manufacturing date is illustrated below. This one is made from cardboard with a covering of Ivorine on the hinged front and back. The base and tapered ends are covered in blue velveteen cloth. The fastening is by blue cord which is knotted to each end. The contents include a wooden reel of white cotton, two packets of assorted needles, (the insides of the front and back also contain provision for additional needles), a loose silver thimble is hallmarked for Birmingham 1858.

            The wording on the front panel is impressed and infilled with silver, the back has a sepia photographic image of the Crystal Palace Nave with Osier’s Crystal Fountain in the foreground.

Unlike the other Sewing Kit this one exhibits signs of being well used, since many of the needles from the front panel are missing and only half of the white cotton is on the reel.


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OLYMPIA Corporate History 1884-1999


© John Glanfield. January 2012


            The above reports recording a September 1884 deadline were obviously published the previous year. The Prospectus is dated August 1885. That the option was indeed offered seems entirely plausible Its terminal dating would tie in with the purchase of the site in April 1884. See also below - ‘1894. 17 December, para 3.

            ‘an offer has been made to rent the hall for some weeks at £500 per week, and another offer from one of the first refreshment caterers in London to pay a minimum rent of £1,500 pa for the refreshment rooms. Morning Post’

            Bertram & Co. first held the refreshment licences at £1.500 p.a. Joseph Lyons secured them in 1891.


1886. The National Agricultural Hall first opens its doors

            A full first-night house of 9,000 were captivated by the vast hall, the novelty and brilliance of its electric arc lighting and the stupendous acts of the Paris Hippodrome Circus. Roman Games with furious chariot racing raised a pall of dust above the huge arena. The audience rose to its feet in a frenzy of cheering. (Arena 280 ft/85m x 142 ft/43m. 7 circuits = 1 mile)

            Severe daily crowd management and communication problems arose on the platforms at Addison Rd station opposite the Hall. A meeting of senior officers of the London & NW Railway and other operators met to agree urgent measures. Public address systems did not exist. The muddy and poorly metalled Addison Road also presented difficulties. But it was a great show and a highly profitable opener.


1887. Insolvency looms for National Agricultural Hall Co.

            Company finances were in a serious state even as the Hippodrome Circus was generating huge attendance’s exceeding 369.000 in the first eight weeks alone.

Accommodation & charges

            1 row of 28 luxurious private boxes fronting the promenade beside the arena   £2.2s.

Behind them a tier of 30 much smaller private boxes furnished as above:        £1 1s.

            Stalls                            5s = 25p.

            Grand circle                  2s6d = 12.5p.

            Amphitheatre                1s = 5p.

            Public response to the shares issue was disappointing Take-up was not helped by serious competition from John Robinson Whitley’s huge and newly opened Earls Court showground. His inaugural American Exhibition opened 9 May 1887. The open-air arena featured the European debut of Buffalo Bill’s sensational Wild West Show. The event ran 151 days, daily attendance’s averaging 15.000. Rivalry between the two venues persisted for 86 years until their amalgamation in 1973. Earls Court’s personnel labelled Olympia ‘the Village Hall’.

            The NAH board had confidently expected to welcome the popular annual Grand Military Tournament, then at Islington’s Agricultural Hall. Indeed, its dynamic Secretary Maj-Gen E.S. Burnaby had been a key and active promoter of the transfer from the outset, welcoming the new hall’s larger arena for his battle re-creations. But Burnaby died shortly before the NAH opened, and contrary views prevailed. The board was shocked at the news - the Tournament would have attracted other major shows. It moved to Olympia, as the NAH had become, in 1906.

            The company’s attempts to generate cash included 3 carriage department supervised by coachmaker Mr J W Turner. It offered showroom and sale facilities for ‘high class carriages, especially patents and those of newest design.’ A display gallery was shrewdly sited between the two tiers of private boxes Surplus phaetons, landaus and broughams of the gentry were charged at 3/-(15p| per week for display, and five per cent of sales.


1888 10 January. Creditors petition for winding-up of NAH company.

            The board sought fresh capital in an attempt to fend-off a Winding-up Order.


1889. National Agricultural Hall Company to compulsorily cease trading

            The petition was granted on 12 January. The company was burdened with debt. Encumbrances included £100,000 of debentures and a £10.000 mortgage. The Hall’s estimated sale value fell well short of liabilities. NAH Co. was finally dissolved 14 March 1894 when receiver Thomas A. Welton was discharged. Most unfortunately, he was ordered to destroy all books after 6 months.

National Archive. Kew corporate papers. pieces BT3I/3335/19814 & RAIL404/171


1891 July. Imre Kiralfy Ltd. (IKL)

            A Syndicate was incorporated 16 July 1891 to stage a stunningly ambitious production at Olympia. ‘Venice in London’ (1891 -93], the brainchild of caterer and entrepreneur Joseph Lyons and Harold Hartley his business associate, proved a hugely profitable spectacular complete with gondolas in lead-lined canals leading from Grand Hall into Olympia’s gardens. It was designed and directed by impresario Imre Kiralfy who had no financial interest in IKL but gave his name to it, doubtless to add weight and attract backers. Instead he wanted a percentage of the gross takings, but settled for 40% of net profit He estimated the production cost at £17,000.

Chairman *John Hart                      Director, J.&H. Hart advertising & publishing. Hart was the

                                                      2nd largest investor in IKL

Committee of Management

*Montague (Monty) Gluckstein.      Director of J Lyons & Co. Ltd.

Isidore Gluckstein                           Another key member of J Lyons Co. Ltd

*Joseph Lyons                               MD of J Lyons & Co. Ltd.

*Harold Hartley                              MD & chairman The Pure Water Co. Ltd, supplier to J Lyons

Herman Hart, Secretary                  Co-director with John Hart (above) of J.&H. Hart

*Trustees of IKL

            Initial subscribers only (1 share each): Charles Close, believed to be Hart’s chief clerk. James Adams, believed to be Hart’s advertising manager.

            The Gluckstein’s were brothers whose astute financial deals had greatly impressed Hartley. They traded in tobacco as Messrs Salmon and Gluckstein The company was building a chain of retail outlets and went public in 1895. By the turn of the century it owned 140 tobacconist shops. They were bought by Imperial Tobacco in 1902. Montague Gluckstein’s acumen and backing enabled Joseph Lyons to create his food empire, iconic corner houses and tea shops.

            IKL raised £18.000 from members and friends. Capital never exceeded £25,000 although ‘Venice’ cost over £60.000 to produce. Their bank saw them through with an overdraft on very inadequate securities. The show’s full outlay was recovered in the first three months of its 13-month run. IKL’s tenancy agreement with the receiver secured the Hall for a year. It was rent-free for approx. 6 months of build-up until the show opened, then £300 per week. J Lyons was appointed sole catering, liquor and tobacco sales concessionaire in return for 15% of gross receipts.


1892. Hartley resigns

            Harold Hartley resigned from IKL in summer 1892 to concentrate on his Pure Water Company’s affairs (but see ‘Freehold Syndicate’ below). Hartley had bought the bankrupt aerated water producer on a whim at auction in 1884. It caused him to meet Joseph Lyons four years later when he and Monty and Isidore Gluckstein were building the Lyons food empire. Hartley later moved into combing the world each year for outstanding acts for Imre Kiralfi’s hugely successful super-shows at Earls Court. Harold Hartley’s fascinating autobiography ‘Eighty Eight Not Out’ (F Muller, 1939) relates his EC&O days at length.

National Archives. Kew. Pure Water Co. papers piece C26/523


1893 & 1895. Kiralfy is replaced by his brother

            Kiralfy’s fee for a follow-on show at the Hall was considered inequitable by IKL Instead, his talented brother Bolossy was engaged to retain the hugely costly canal system and produce ‘Constantinople, or The Revels of the East (December 1893-November ‘94). It matched the profitability of Imre’s Venice’


Imre Kiralfy Ltd voluntarily winds-up by resolution 10 July 1895, appointing Montague Gluckstein as liquidator.

National Archives. Kew. company papers piece BT31/5110/34428


1893. The Freehold Syndicate

            An unregistered syndicate was formed in January 1893 to acquire The National Agricultural Hall, create a company to buy it at a profit, ‘weight’ the new company’s board with the syndicate’s nominees, and ensure that a condition attaching to the purchase would require the companies of two syndicate members to be appointed as sole licensees for provision of refreshments and advertising.


            An agreement was entered into between syndicate secretary John Hart and 32 others It set out the syndicate’s proposal that each member would subscribe funds for purchase of the National Agricultural Hall before selling it on to a company to be registered by the syndicate or to some other purchaser. It proposed the appointment of members Lyons. Hart, Hartley and M. Gluckstein as the syndicate’s Trustees with full powers to manage the purchase and re-sale of Olympia. and to become directors of any company formed to purchase the NAH, if so elected. They would also have full powers to purchase ‘as an interim investment’ any first mortgage bonds of the National Agricultural Hall Company Additionally, resale of the NAH property would be conditional on the appointment of J. Lyons & Co. to supply refreshments, and appointment of J. & H. Hart as advertising agents for the purchasing company

The Times, 27 May 1898: report of appeal. 13 November 1895, examination of directors Olympia Ltd

Signatories to the syndicate agreement committed £35,950 in all, of which only £7.192 was paid.

The Times 6 November 1895 report of proceedings.


1893 Jan-Feb. Syndicate buys heavily discounted National Agric. Hall bonds.

            Shortly after its creation the syndicate’s four Trustees were able to buy debenture bonds from holders at a discount because of the perceived inability of the National Agricultural Hall Co. to redeem in full. Hartley later said \’took no share in this purchase’. The Syndicate paid £27,220 for first debentures nominally worth £32.000, which later realised £42,358 They also paid £500 for second mortgage bonds nominally worth £10,000, which afterwards realised £5,096. The profit on these transactions was £20,734, of which the four trustees received £6,341 between them, apportioned Hart £2,306. Gluckstein £1.441 Lyons £1,441. Hartley £1,153.

High Court Order 17 2 1898. National Archives. Kew. piece J13/1248

The Times, 6 November 1895, report of examination of directors, 27 May 1898, report of appeal.


            In 1895 Montague Gluckstein stated at a public examination of the directors of Olympia Ltd that the reason for the purchase of the NAH was that a competitor had offered £90,000 for it and was prepared to go to £160,000. When challenged by counsel for the shareholders, he contended that purchase of the bonds of the National Agricultural Hall Co. ‘was properly described as an interim investment,’ the syndicate’s solicitors having advised them that ‘this description was... a proper form of disclosure to the public of the nature of the transactions’ The Registrar in bankruptcy responded ‘I think I should call it a speculation’.

The Times. 13 Nov. 1895, report of public examination of the directors of Olympia Ltd.


1893. 8 Feb. Freehold Syndicate pays £140,000 for National Agricultural Hall

            Unusually, the competitive bidding for the NAH was conducted in the chambers of Mr Justice North in the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice, It was he who had ordered the sale. The syndicate seemed almost recklessly determined to buy at all cost, securing the property for £140.000 in response to the underbidder’s £132,000, whereas all earlier bids had risen by no more than £1,000 at each stage.

The Times 13 November 1895. examination of directors of Olympia Ltd. & 27 May 1898, report of appeal.


1893. 20 March. Freehold Syndicate sells National Agricultural Hall for £180.000

            The syndicate had registered Olympia Ltd on 20 March and appointed syndicate founder member Charles Close as Trustee of the new company. The syndicate then entered into an agreement with Close (acting for Olympia Ltd) that the company would purchase the Hall for £180,000. The syndicate would thereby gain a profit of £40,000 gross, £34,923 net to add to its £20,734 profit on the debentures.

High Court Order 17 2 1898. National Archives. Kew, piece J13/1248.

The Times 6 Nov 1895. report of proceedings. 27 May 1898. report of appeal.


1893. March. Olympia Ltd and the birth of ‘Olympia’

            Under its new ownership the Hall was renamed Olympia.

The board of Olympia Ltd.

Chairman                Montague Gluckstein

Directors;               Joseph Lyons,                                Harold Hartley

                              John Hart,                                      Capt. Watson

                              George Hicks,                                Edwin Levy

Secretary                Herman Hart (John Hart’s brother). H. Hart was later replaced by Mr H. M. Fisher.

Applications were invited for £155,000 in £5 shares in Olympia Ltd, and £70,000 in 5% debentures.

            Target total £225.000, of which £180,000 was to be applied to purchase of Olympia, the

balance as working capital. In the event only £94,890 was subscribed for shares, including

£10,000 from the directors

            The company’s Prospectus quite openly slated that the Freehold Syndicate had earlier bought Olympia for £140,000. It went onto record that the promoters of the new company (Gluckstein, Lyons, Hartley and John Hart) were members of the syndicate and that they would act for the syndicate as vendors of the NAH property to Olympia Ltd. This was followed by a caveat which would prove controversial.

‘Any other profits made by the syndicate from interim investments are excluded from the sale to the company.’ Gluckstein later confirmed that ‘interim investments’ meant the discounted debenture bonds acquired by the syndicate.

            The Prospectus also locked-in a condition of sale that obliged Olympia Ltd to award certain contracts to named suppliers, viz.

            The catering & liquor contract at Olympia to go to J Lyons 8 Co. Joseph Lyons and Montague Gluckstein were directors of J Lyons and directors of Olympia Ltd Olympia would receive 15% of gross receipts from catering/liquor sales (Lyons held this license under differing Olympia hall owners for the next 60 years].

            The advertising sales contract for Olympia to Messrs J & H Hart, John Hart being a director of J&H Hart and now a director of Olympia Ltd. His company would receive commission of 25% of gross receipts for all advertising secured by Olympia e.g. poster hoardings, show catalogues etc.

The Times 27 May 1898. report of appeal.


© Exhibition Study Group 2013