Trade and Industry Fairs


Ron Trevalyan

Until now my interest in trade and industry fairs has been very low key to say the least. However I kept noticing that I had a bundle of British Industries Fair Postmarks lying neglected in the bottom of a drawer. Then somewhat haphazardly I began to acquire stamps and attractive looking exhibition labels connected with trade events whenever I went to stamp fairs. This led to a stamp

competition entry based on stamps and postmarks only, and at the last Exhibition Study Group Convention I was able to show a wider selection.

Suitably encouraged with my growing collection I thought it would be useful to look up the purpose of trade fairs and their history and some interesting facts have emerged. Trade and industry fairs do, of course, have a continuing role in the world of commerce and are quite separate from the large world of expos where direct selling in National Pavilions is prohibited. Essentially they aim to promote trade, especially in new products, and provide a kind of temporary market where buyers and sellers can do business.

My enthusiasm was really aroused when I discovered just how far back in time trade fairs go. They certainly featured in the Roman Empire, when the Romans introduced markets and fairs into northern Europe to encourage trade with their captured provinces. When the Roman Empire disintegrated in the 5th Century there was a gap in organised until the reign of Emperor Charlemagne in France (771 - 814). Fairs evolved from local markets and religious festivals or at trade caravan route intersections. They were a mixture of religious, business and entertainment’s. These ancient and medieval fairs were often held under charters granted by the King or the Lord of the district. Some historical clues can be found in the language. The Latin word ‘feria’ means holiday whilst the German word ‘messe’ has two meanings, religious sacrament or fair. I was also intrigued to discover that the rules of these ancient fairs became the basis for European business law.

In Britain typical examples of medieval events as described above were the St. Bartholomew’s Fair in London, from 1102 onwards which was England’s main cloth fair and Old Nottingham Goose Fair where you could see droves of 20,000 geese. In more recent times the Great Exhibition of 1851 could be considered to be a major trade show. As its full title suggests (The Works of Industry of all Nations) there was a chance for Britain and the Empire, as well as foreign countries (for the first time), to exhibit materials, machinery and manufacturers.

The British Industry Fair, which probably started me off in this area, deserves consideration. In 1915 the Department of Overseas Trade began this national trade fair to counter the trade problems caused by World War I. It continued until 1957 in various venues such as Castle Bromwich, in Birmingham and the White City, Earl’s Court and Olympia in London. However the Board of Trade ceased to support it in 1954 and the B.I.F. became the victim of competition from the large Continental fairs which were international and because fairs were becoming more specialised.

On the Continent, especially in Germany, town fairs have occurred since the middle ages, e.g. Leipzig since 1164. The Hanover Fair had an unlikely boost. After world War II the Allied occupying forces suggested an export fair to stimulate employment and increase exports. It is now one of the largest trade fairs in the world.

Advertising labels for the British Industries Fair

The annual Paris Fair began in 1904 and the variety of slogan postmarks advertising fairs in many countries testify to their continuing importance. Postage stamps too can be found world-wide which portray trade fairs in places as far afield as El Salvador and Zimbabwe.

So it seems that trade and industry fairs have changed a great deal over the years and will continue to adapt to the particular markets they serve. As far as I am concerned the bundle of B.I.F. slogans has opened up a four lane highway in this particular area and from the amount of collectable material around it is not likely to end up in a cul-de-sac. This is probably another case of a side collection bursting its banks!


   © Exhibition Study Group 1999