Primary Sources 


Below are but a few of the many primary sources of information about the Great Exhibition of 1851, beginning with the Official Catalogues available online and continuing on into unofficial catalogs and guides, as well as some other accounts of the Exhibition available through UNC Chapel Hill.

Official Catalogues

Royal Commission. Official Catalogue of the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, 1851. Second Corrected and Improved Edition. London: Spicer Brothers,, 1851. 

The second version of the one-volume official catalogue of the Exhibition is a simple catalog of most the items exhibited in the Crystal Palace as well as a few things which did not make it in. There are no illustrations in this version of the catalog. The organization reflects that of Exhibition: the first half is dedicated to Britain and her dependencies and is subdivided into 30 classes of item type. The second half is reserved for foreign nations arranged alphabetically by name of the country. There are advertisments from the contracted publisher at the beginning, and these are in turn preceded by a page of useful information on the Exhibition, such as ticket prices and various rules. 

Full Text Available on Google Books

Royal Commission. Official Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue of the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, 1851. London: Spicer Brother, 1851. 

The Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue was issued in several versions. There was a three-volume version (with a fourth volume as a supplement sold seperately) and a six-volume "Imperial Quarto Edition" which included the reports of the juries and the Royal Commission. A number of these are available online through Google Books. These include:

Unofficial Catalogues/Guides

The Crystal Palace and Its Contents: Being An Illustrated Cyclopedia of the Great Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations. [London?]: W.M. Clark, 1852.

This unofficial guide to the Great Exhibition’s treasures is 424 pages in length and is composed of smaller, newsletter-like entries. A general index and index of engravings at the beginning of the book serve to unify this amalgamation. What most recommends this source are its extensive illustrations which differ in many cases from those in the Official Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogs. If one knows what they are looking for, more descriptive information about certain exhibits are to be found here than elsewhere as well--but it is otherwise hard to navigate.

Library Service Center     NK510 .L6 C78

The Crystal Palace Exhibition Illustrated Catalog: London 1851: An Unabridged Republication of the Art Journal Special Issue. New York: Dover, 1970.

As the title suggests, this is a reprinting of an illustrated catalog of the Great Exhibition which was released by the Art-Journal. For the most part it takes the form of extensive engraved illustrations of art objects found in the Crystal Palace, accompanied by brief, and usually laudatory, descriptions of each--including who designed and manufactured them. It is not an exhaustive catalog and some art objects of note, such as Hiram Powers’ Greek Slave, are not illustrated in it. In scope it encompasses 328 pages of engraved illustrations and their descriptions, preceded by a 15 page “History of the Great Exhibition” and followed by five essays on various topics--including the Prize Essay by art critic Ralph Nicholson Wornum on “The Exhibition as a Lesson in Taste”. This Dover Edition also includes an 8 page introduction by John Gloag. The illustrations and descriptions seem to be organized in no particular order, but objects may be located with the help of the table of contents which lists the engraved items by their creator. Admittedly, this is most useful if one knows the particular item he or she is looking for.

This Illustrated Catalog is likely to be of most use to those with an interest in the arts--particularly the decorative arts--exhibited at the Crystal Palace, but unhelpful in seeking information about mechanical contrivances there. The illustrations are of good quality, though not quite refined enough (especially when depicting the sculptures) to convey the sensitivity of the art they display. For example, compare a photograph of Powers's Fisher Boy in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts with the engraving of the same: 

Engraving of Hiram Powers' Fisher BoyPhoto of Hiram Powers' Fisher Boy at VMFA

Art Library     NK520 .G7 L62 1970 c. 2

 Accounts of the Exhibition

Jones, Anne Catherine Boykin. 1851. Anne Catherine Boykin Jones Diary, 1851. Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC.

Anne Catherine Boykin Jones, the wife of a Georgia businessman, travelled with him to Europe in 1851 on a “Grand Tour” of sorts. During this journey, Jones kept a diary of her experiences and the sights she saw, partly framed as letters to her sister. One of the early stops on her journey was in London where she visited the Great Exhibition. Jones’ writing is preoccupied with American-ness and defending the U.S. contributions to the Exhibition from would-be detractors. But, like many Americans today, she is fascinated by royalty, and hopes to have an opportunity to meet Queen Victoria (she never does). This manuscript, accompanied by a typed transcript (both digitized online), records two visits to the Exhibition: one in an entry dated 14th June, 1851 (p. 16 ff. of the transcript, p. 20 ff. of the manuscript) and again on Tues. Sept. 2 (pp. 145-146 transcript, pp. 167-168 manuscript). The first of these visits was on a limited-admission day, while the second was on one of the shilling days open to the general “hoi polloi” and Jones is very dismayed by the throng of people packing the Crystal Palace. The diary is an interesting read and a unique first-hand account of the Great Exhibition available through UNC’s Southern Historical Collection in Wilson Library.

Southern Historical Collection     1762-z
Online Manuscript
Online Transcription

Drew, William A. Glimpses and Gatherings During a Voyage and Visit to London and the Great Exhibition in the Summer of 1851. Augusta: Homan & Manley, 1852. 

The title gives a good summary of this book's content, which takes the form of a series of letters on the authors observations during his travels. The Crystal Palace and the Exhibition therein are treated with in letters XII, XVIII, and XXX-XXXIX (12, 18, and 30-39). Drew is also an American and gives an American persepective on the Great Exhibition. 

Rare Book Collection Travel     DA683 .D7
Online via HathiTrust, Google Books, and Open Content Alliance.

Miscellaneous Sources

Brudder Bones' Trip to the World's Fair: as sung by W. Chambers, the great bone player. Philadelphia: G.S. Harris, printer, Fourth and Vine, 1852?

A single page song-sheet featuring an amusing, though certainly uninformative, ditty about a bone player who visits the Great Exhibition and becomes a celebrity there after Prince Albert asks him to play for everyone. 

Online access through UNC Libraries on American Broadsides and Ephemera.

Last Week at Horticultural Hall! The Monster Panorama of the Crystal Palace! ... Boston: Times Steam Cylinder Job Press, 1852? 

Also hosted on American Broadsides and Ephemera, this is a two-sided broadside advertisement for P.T. Barnum's massive panorama painting of the Crystal Palace exhibited in Boston and New York. Admission 25 cents. 

Online access through UNC Libraries

The World's Fair, or, Children's Prize Book of the Great Exhibition of 1851: Describing the Beautiful Inventions and Manufactures Exhibited Therein: With Pretty Stories About the People Who Have Made and Sent Them: and how They Live When at Home. London: Thomas Dean & Son, Ackermann and Co., 1851. 

With such an extensive title, a description from me hardly seems necessary. Nonetheless, I will write a few words. This is indeed a contemporary children's book about the Great Exhibition and the people who made submissions to it. As such, it is written in the style and tone which you'd expect a Victorian children's book to be written in. I would not recommend it to modern children as its provenance means it contains many imperialist and slightly xenophobic assumptions typical to its times. Its factual content may be questionable as well--as it at one point refers to Mexico as being in South America. Though perhaps not the best thing for modern children to learn about the Great Exhibition, it is an interesting perspective on the Great Exhibition and a memento of those times. Contains numerous engraved illustrations. 

Available Online through Project Gutenberg.

Primary Sources

Here you will find the official catalogues, guidebooks, other contemporary publications and accounts of the Great Exhibition. More…

General Information

For secondary sources containing general histories or descriptions of the Great Exhibition, visit this section. More…

The Crystal Palace and Joseph Paxton

For sources regarding the Crystal Palace structure itself and its creator, Joseph Paxton, view this section.. More…

Other Sections

Home PageGeneral InformationLibrary of Congress Subject HeadingsSpecial Topics & ScholarshipThe Crystal Palace & Joseph PaxtonPrimary SourcesLegacy of the Great ExhibitionImage Map
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