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DIRECTOR, PHILADELPHIA COMMERCIAL MUSEUM LETTER from SYDNEY

The cover was sent Per “Sierra” and it had the blue 2½d New South Wales stamp postmarked with 2 examples of the SYDNEY/ 11AU06-7.–P.M/ 41 cancel (Figure 1).

The reverse had the name of the sender on the flap: W.G. PEIR, 60 ELIZABETH STREET, SYDNEY, as well as two reception postmarks, a circular PHILADELPHIA/ SEP 7/ 11-AM/ 1906/ PA and an oval WEST PHILADELPHIA/ RECEIVED/ STATION, with a ‘2' alongside (Figure 2).

The opening of The Commercial Museum was recorded in The New York Times, June 3 1897 was a special event for President McKinley delivered the Opening Address in the presence of foreign delegates (Figure 3).

The idea for the Philadelphia Commercial Museum was born with a visit by University of Pennsylvania biology professor Dr. William P. Pepper to the great Columbian Exhibition of 1893 in Chicago.  He convinced the City Council and Mayor Edwin S. Stuart to purchase 24 railcars filled with materials from the Exhibition when it closed.  Wilson became the Director of the Museum and added tons of new material from big fairs and exhibits around the world.

Six years after its founding in 1894, the museum consisted of five buildings along 34 th Street near Spruce Street.  Its large staff promoted world trade in a dozen ways including the collection of countless items of trade goods from every nation in the world (New South Wales was specifically mentioned).  Collecting tons of foreign goods and raw materials was aimed at showing American businesses what other nations offered in the way of trade goods, and what they might want to buy.

The museum spewed out an ocean of publications (including American Trade with Australia), reports and statistical data, and did translations in two dozen languages. It put together lists of international buyers and sellers, boasted up-to-date scientific testing labs, and had a network of 20,000 overseas correspondents feeding statistics and facts on trade back to Philadelphia headquarters.  It had a huge library of books and publications relating to world trade.  Along with lectures to adults, it provided classes on trade and geography for school students and gave them a glimpse of exotic lands.

In June 1897 the Philadelphia Commercial Museum issued a silver medal which was inscribed on one side: ‘To Commemorate the International Opening of the Philadelphia Commercial Museum June 1897' and on the other side: ‘The Philadelphia Museums Founded 1894' with the Philadelphia Seal inside the inscription (Figure 4).

A major source of continued funding for the museum was membership fees of about 100 dollars from businesses with an interest in export/import.  Seventy percent of the member businesses were from outside the Philadelphia region.  When the U.S. Department of Commerce was born in 1914, the museum began to lose its unique position in the country.  Parts of the building were taken over as the Civic Center, and by the late 1990s it became derelict after the opening of the Pennsylvania Convention Center.   The University of Pennsylvania purchased the complex to expand its medical research facilities.  An early picture of the museum is seen in Figure 5.

This cover sent from Sydney in 1906 to the Director of the Philadelphia Commercial Museum ties in very well with the information reported in this paper, for the sender, W.G. Peir of Elizabeth Street, is listed as an importer of goods.  He may have bought items from the museum or listed the items that he could sell to the museum.

During its last decades, the Commercial Museum was a forlorn and forgotten anachronism - “little more than a hazy memory for aging Philadelphians of a long-ago junior high school field trip”.

 Addendum (September 2009):  Another later cover was seen sent to the Commercial Museum, Philadelphia, as follows:

The censored cover has the ‘Opened by Censor’ label with 3 dots as well as a purple boxed PASSED BY/ CENSOR/ V 97 and the blue 3d KGVI stamp is postmarked with a roller cancel ‘EAT APPLES/ FOR HEALTH’ with a MELBOURNE/ 130 PM/ 11 APR/1940/ VIC AUST. It was addressed to The Connercial Museum, Foreign Trade Bureau, 34th Street below Spruce, Philadelphia. The sender’s name was partially obscured by the censor’s label but the firm is identified by Mackinder, Elizabeth House, Melbourne C. 1. The reverse was not seen (Figure 1).

An example of one of a Commercial Museum’s exhibit is shown in Figure 2.

A postcard showing the Commercial Museum of Philadelphia is seen in Figure 3.

 

 
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