Thursday, May 17, 2012

World's Fair (Weltausstellung), Vienna, 1873

Carefully inspect this pipe bowl. What do you see?

What's all the talk about mixed mediums when it comes to antique pipes? An antique meerschaum pipe would be composed of a meerschaum bowl and, most likely, an amber mouthpiece. 

This image is of only the bowl, but what a bowl! There is meerschaum, inset turquoise and amber beads, appliqued enamel, chased silver and gold-plate decor, and a diamond. And where is this diamond? It's inside the crown high atop the wind cover. What visual impact!

And what do we know about this bowl? 

We instantly recognize the four allegoric figures--Art, Science, Trade and Technology-- that appear within the delicately incised arches of this Gothic-style high- and bas relief- carved masterpiece.

What is not readily apparent are the Imperial arms, the Austrian double eagle, and the rotunda that are etched (they can only be seen close-up) into three of the four oval amber medallions inset into the wind cover. 

The "Rotunda," is considered to have been the most important iron-constructed, circle-shaped, exhibition hall at the World's Fair (Weltausstellung), Vienna, 1873,

Vienna, the imperial capital on the Danube, had developed into the leading artistic center in central Europe. The Austro-Hungarian monarchy was enjoying a never-before-experienced economic boom that made itself felt in a general spirit of optimism on the art market and gave rise to an enormous amount of building activity. 

The Viennese Ringstraße, one of the largest building sites in Europe at the time, was gradually taking shape, the Court Opera, Court Museums, Parliament, and Stock Exchange.

The World Fair of 1873 was the perfect opportunity for Austria to present itself as a world leader and the equal of England and France. This fifth World Fair taking place from May 1st to October 31st, would be hosted for the first time by a German-speaking country.

The structure that served as the focal point and ideological locus for the Vienna Exhibition was its striking Rotunda, a feat of engineering and design.

"On May 1st, the streets of the Ringstrasse were wet with a cold drizzle. More than twenty thousand Viennese citizens came out to see the festivities, yet the area around the Rotunda, Leopoldstadt and Praterstern, did not seem even half full. 

Emperor Francis Joseph appeared at noon, signaling the beginning of the ceremonies. The program was unusually brief; it concluded in less than thirty minutes and lacked any type of formal speech.

However, the one characteristic that immortalized that day was the music. You could hear the strains of the Imperial Opera's orchestra...

The Viennese Imperial Opera performing in San Francisco in 1894

...and the voices of two Viennese Glee Clubs united in performing Georg Friedrich Händel's March,

Johann Strauss's Vienna Blood Waltz...

and Johann Strauss's Blue Danube Waltz.

The opening ceremony concluded with the Austrian national hymn, sung to Lasst uns mit geschlungnen Händen ("Let us with joined hands") written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1791.

...and directed by Otto Dessorf (conductor of the Imperial Opera from 1860 to 1875). 

Conductor, composer, Felix Otto Dessoff (14 January 1835 – 28 October 1892)

While the music emerged as a high point of the initial celebrations, the atmosphere in Vienna was hushed.

Just a fortnight after the opening ceremonies, the Austrian stock market underwent a severe crash, wreaking havoc on the domestic economy...

Black Friday at May 9th 1873 at the Vienna stock exchange, Schwarzer Freitag an der Wiener Börse, wood engraving from 1873
A crash that would spread to most of Europe and North America by 1873, 

The Panic - Run on the Fourth National Bank, No. 20 Nassau Street [New York City, 1873]
and would last until 1879.The depression became known as the Great Depression until the 1930s, but is now referred to as the Long Depression or the Gründerkrach.

Not surprisingly, the atmosphere in Vienna during the fair was not as jubilant as had been seen at other exhibitions.

But inside the Rotunda, inside the hearts of the Viennese, there was music. When words aren't enough, music and masterful craftsmanship, as demonstrated in the finesse of this magnificent meerschaum pipe, speak volumes.


For this was truly an example of captivating art and craftsmanship.

Incised in the fourth amber medallion, one could find the signature of its maker: "J. N. Menhard, Wien.

Menhard received the Medal of Merit for this work of art. 

This exhibition piece was one of the first objects acquired for the historical tobacco collection of the Austrian Tobacco Monopoly and housed at the Austrian Tobacco Museum.

 It is now the property of the Schloss Schoenbrunn Museum, Vienna.

Read about and see more of this pipe bowl in Herbert Rupp, "Viennese Meerschaum," Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine, Winter 1996.

Also on display at the World Fair was the "Europa" pipe, another masterpiece in its own right.

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