Collector Profile: Mark Milano
What sparked your interest in collecting items from the New York World’s Fair?
I fell in love with the 1939 New York World’s Fair back in the ’80s. There was a great shop in Chicago called “Wheel & Deal” that sold 20th century antiques at very reasonable prices. I noticed a Bakelite pencil sharpener (pictured above) and thought it was just beautiful. So clean and elegant. I tried to find more items, but there was little in Chicago,
When I moved to NYC in 1987, I found much more - at outrageous prices! The glasses in the large picture of my collection were priced at $65 apiece! At my film assistant salary, I could never afford any of it, so I would go into shops like “Mood Indigo” in Soho (now closed) and just drool.
Then came eBay. Wow - all the World’s Fair stuff I wanted, and cheap! I got the entire set of those six glasses I had coveted for years for $75 total - and the seller actually hand-delivered them from New Jersey. I went kinda nuts for the next two years, searching every day for things I wanted.
What are your favorite pieces in the collection?
I’m fortunate that I’m not a completist. I’m only interested in items that are well-designed - and a lot of souvenirs are not. I bought around a hundred objects and about the same amount of paper items, and I found I had pretty much everything I wanted. The other collectibles were just not that interesting, so I stopped. I think my favorite piece is the red Bakelite napkin holder. For beauty of design, it can’t be beat. My favorite pavilion is the Sealtest building - what nerve they had!
Where do you store your collection?
I store the objects in a too-small shelf, but about ten of them are a part of my “art moderne” living room. I store the paper items in a in a number of sleeved binders.
Thoughts on World’s Fairs that followed the “world of tomorrow”:
As I studied the fair, I was more and more impressed with their overall commitment to design - something I found lacking in other fairs. Certainly the ‘64 Fair, which I was aware of as a child (though not able to attend), had none of the unifying design concepts that make the ‘39 fair so impressive. Watching films of the fair and even finding stereoscopic slides really made me wish I’d been able to attend.
I’d never been to a World’s Fair, so my boyfriend and I went to Expo 2010 Shanghai. It was massive, and many of the pavilions were beautiful, but the fairgrounds themselves were dismal. It felt like someone just plopped a bunch of buildings in a big asphalt parking lot. No landscaping, poor layout, and definitely no unifying design theme. But the pavilions were what I had hoped for: that wonderful blend of capitalism in the guise of education. The GM exhibit showed us the car of the future, and I couldn’t help but think of Futurama as I watched.
World’s Fairs present a glowing picture of the past and present, and a wonderfully optimistic vision of the future. We all know it’s marketing hype, but when it’s done so well and looks so good it makes you believe for just a few minutes.
(More items from Mark’s collection tomorrow … )