Scoop: Artifact Checker

An expert on Seattle

Category: Arts + Events Articles


An expert on Seattle’s first world’s fair reveals rare treasures from a century-old event that put our city on the map

Many people assume that Seattle’s first world’s fair was in 1962, when the Space Needle and Monorail made their futuristic appearances. But in 1909, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (often referred to as the A-Y-P) brought nearly 4 million people to the University of Washington campus for a four-month celebration spotlighting Pacific trade and our state’s prosperity post-Klondike Gold Rush.  David Robinson, a Virginia Mason physician (whose physician-grandfather was hired to staff the A-Y-P’s hospital) is a die-hard collector of hard-to-find world’s fair antiques. As a child, he was fascinated by the 1962 fair, which ultimately led him to discover its A-Y-P roots. On March 14, Robinson will join A-Y-P experts at the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) to honor the historic exposition in an Antiques Roadshow-style event that will help the public decipher their own pieces of this time capsule. 

Seattle Magazine:  When did you begin collecting A-Y-P memorabilia?
David Robinson:  I have been learning about the fair and collecting for about 15 years in a more serious fashion. The first items that I remember were a pillowcase made from an old A-Y-P felt banner and a blue plate depicting scenes of Seattle and the fair made for Frederick & Nelson.

SM:  What are the most interesting and valuable things in your A-Y-P collection?
D.R.  For sheer drama and documentation value, it is hard to do better than the extensive number of postcards that are associated with the fair. These can document a slice of life from 100 years ago.

SM:  What is a surprising fact you’ve learned about the 1909 fair?
D.R.  The largest waterborne illness episode in Seattle’s history occurred at the A-Y-P when water from Lake Washington was mistakenly and briefly diverted to the fresh water supply at the fair. 

SM:  What will your role be during the March 14 event at MOHAI?
D.R.  I will be there with a group of local experts and collectors to help identify items related to the A-Y-P.

SM:  What are some of the other A-Y-P centennial events?
D.R.  Efforts are being coordinated through the city, county, Historylink and MOHAI, as well as the university and other major museums and organizations. And [starting June 13] the Model T Club International will be reenacting the 1909 Ocean-to-Ocean automobile race to celebrate the centennial of that event.