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Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor,
Yearning to be Free

by Bob Brooke

 


While all collectors have love affairs with the objects they collect, none are more passionate than those who collect Statue of Liberty memorabilia. To these collectors, their collections are more than a mere assemblage of objects. Each represents a collector’s passion for Liberty’s history and her cultural significance. For most collectors, it’s Miss Liberty’s symbolism that grabs them.

Although the French Government conceived the Statue of Liberty as a symbolic gesture, no one had any idea at the time just how important a symbol she would become. Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, her creator, envisioned her as a monument to the mutual love of the French and Americans for liberty, and as propaganda against the then conservative leaders of the French government. It was thought that building a huge monument for the United States would forever link that powerful democratic country, with France, and cement that country's new Third Republic. But not everyone shared Bartholdi's vision.

Fundraising, especially in the United States, proved difficult. The Statue of Liberty Committee had planned to unveil that the statue would be unveiled in 1876 for the Centennial of American Independence. But sluggish fundraising delayed the gift for at least 10 years. This resulted in a variety of wonderful memorabilia. Most souvenirs sold for pennies to dollars each to raise money to complete the big statue and bring her to America. The French, on the other hand, raised money to complete the building of the statue piece by piece while the Americans raised funds to complete the gigantic base. By 1884, The French had completed Miss Liberty and were ready to ship her. But the American Committee was short the $100,000 needed to complete her pedestal. To raise additional monies, the Committee commissioned more than 100,000 models which it sold by subscription, and at Macy's and other department stores. Each $1 purchase added to the Liberty coffers. It sold some 12-inch models for $5. Today, the small metal models sell for $250 to $300 and the large ones from $500 to $1,000.

Meanwhile, the French disassembled the statue into over 300 pieces and shipped it in more than 200 wooden crates. The arm bearing the torch filled 21 boxes alone. On June 17, 1886, she arrived. Workers placed the statue on the immense supporting monument designed by Richard Morris Hunt. On Oct. 28, 1886, the Committee officially installed and dedicated the Statue of Liberty. There was a huge inaugural parade and President Grover Cleveland delivered a dedication address. Collectors covet the programs, tickets, and invitations from this gala occasion.

During the celebration, President Cleveland led a flotilla of 250 ships to Bedloe's Island. Ironically, women were banned from participating in the dedication ceremony even though it was a woman's form Liberty was modeled after. Bartholdi said that he modeled the face of Miss Liberty after his mother's face and the arms after those of his wife. Angry suffragists circled Bedloe's island in a rented boat during the dedication, announcing through a megaphone that if Liberty got down off her pedestal, she wouldn’t have been allowed to vote either in France or America, both of which prided themselves on being democratic republics.

During the earliest Liberty years, many souvenirs appeared. During the 10 years before Liberty arrived, many publishers printed lithographs, including early pieces of sheet music. There are stereopticon photos from the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia of Liberty’s right arm, which appeared at the fair, showing visitors standing on her torch. These souvenirs now sell for $125. Visitors to the fair could purchase large, finely detailed bronze medals, crafted in Paris.

In 1878, Liberty had no body, but when Europeans gathered in Paris for the 1878 Expeditions, the head had been completed and was displayed on the banks of the Seine. Visitors filled her crown and for several francs, could take home a lovely 4-inch Liberty bust, a few of which found their way to America and today sell for upwards of $500. Other French souvenirs included tasseled, silks and ribbons made for the fair by B.B. Tilt & Son in Paterson, New Jersey.

For a substantial contribution to aid French fundraising, up to 100 zinc statuettes went on sale, including a small edition, finely detailed statuette in terra cotta, hand-finished by Bartholdi, himself. During the 1986 Liberty Centennial, several of these reached more than $100,000 at auction. In the United States, a New Jersey furniture maker named Follmer, cast a few detailed zinc statuettes carrying 1883 and 1885 patent dates. These are quite rare, much more so than the American Committee Models. Follmer's statuettes feature the original Hunt pedestal design that the Committee ultimately abandoned for the one actually under Liberty's feet. Today, these statues sell for over $5,000.

The 20th century witnessed many more souvenirs—some as works of art, some as advertising, some as satirical commentaries, some as cheap souvenirs for the hordes of tourists who visited her. Practically everything had the image of Miss Liberty reproduced on it, including clocks, lamps, statuettes, compacts, cigarette cases and boxes, cookie tins, pitchers, spoons, china and even trade cards satirizing Liberty in order to sell a product. Though some of objects were beautifully done, others appear cheap with muddied facial features and poor workmanship. But even the cheap ones are collectible.

Many collectors began their collections while they were teenagers after a class trip to New York and a visit to the Statue of Liberty. Often this visit brought back memories of grandparents who came to the United States from some foreign country. While visiting, they would visit the gift shop and be awed by all the Statue of Liberty souvenirs.

It’s important to know how to tell really early Liberty collectibles, that is before 1891, from more recent examples. The first step is to look at the pedestal on which Liberty stands. Early items are characterized by the early pedestal design that was subsequently rejected for the final base we are familiar with today. The early pedestal looked somewhat like a fortress, with high, small porticos, studded with protruding bricks. Familiarize yourself with the difference between the two and you will be able to spot valuable older pieces when others might pass the them by .
Another way to identify older items, particularly ephemera, is to look for pieces titled, "The Great Bartholdi Statue" or "Liberty Enlightening the World" instead of the title Statue of Liberty.

During the Liberty Centennial in 1986, there was a rush of interest in Liberty collecting. At that time, there were thousands of souvenirs and "limited editions" sold, including watches, medals, limited-edition plates, rugs, cookie jars, mugs, and jewelry.

Most collectors agree that, although items are becoming more scarce, there are still plenty of finds if you look. Garage sales, flea markets, thrift shops and Goodwill stores are all good places to find Statue of Liberty souvenirs.

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