ephemeral tomorrows

Jesse Marinoff Reyes ( Jesse Marinoff Reyes Design, Maplewood, N.J.)

In the spring of 1939, the World’s Fair opens in New York City—at Flushing Meadows, Queens to be exact, also the site of a later Fair in 1965. The 1939 Fair was the first of the world’s fairs to be based “on the future” (official slogan: “Dawn of a New Day”) and allowed visitors a peek at “the world of tomorrow.” It was an art deco-era inspired future, sleek and streamlined, like a Hollywood musical fantasy, something that could optimistically point to a brighter future. Ironic, at a time when not only the nation was crawling out of the Great Depression, but the world was at the precipice of all-out war. Still, it must’ve been a little like going to Oz (even though that film would not open in theaters until later that summer), without the tornado.

1939 New York Worlds Fair

Here, even this little souvenir postcard speaks to that streamlined future. Depicting the famous Trylon and Perisphere structures (designed by architects Wallace Harrison and J. Andre Fouilhoux, with the interior exhibit by Henry Dreyfuss) at night with a sunburst of spotlight color effects. This was achieved by printing the card with a sculpted metallic foil, called “Metalite” by the card manufacturer. It shimmers and radiates an almost three-dimensional quality, but is essentially four-color printing on a silver foiled surface, the transparency of the inks blending with the silver foil—but it is the intricate stamping (think of holographic foil today), or maybe engraving that makes this an even more otherworldly object of the “how’d they do that?” variety, creating an optical, prismatic shimmer. It actually seems to glow.

The actual iconographic symbols of tomorrow however did not last. Meant to be temporary from the beginning, the (unromantic) plasterboard (ick!) and steel framing were demolished and scrapped after the closing of the fair—the materials recycled into armaments used for World War II. Some future, eh?

Instead, it is the ephemera that remains.

New York World’s Fair postcard, 1939
Gemloid Company, NY

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