Popular Science Monthly/Volume 9/May 1876/Awards at the International Exhibition



AT a regular meeting of the Executive Committee of the United States Centennial Commission, held at Philadelphia, October 13, 1875, Mr. Beckwith, Commissioner from New York (United States Commissioner-General at the International Exhibition at Paris, 1867), presented the following report upon the selection and appointment of judges. It was carefully considered and unanimously approved:

Hon. D. J. Morrell, Chairman of the Executive Committee.

Sir: In compliance with the request of the Executive Committee, I beg leave to present for consideration the following suggestions relating to the selection and appointment of judges, in conformity with the method of awards decreed by the Centennial Commission.

This method, in many respects, differs radically from the systems hitherto tried in International Exhibitions, and, although the subject is familiar to you, I shall be pardoned, I hope, for briefly indicating the broad differences.

Awards have heretofore been generally made by an International Jury of about six hundred members.

The apportionment of jurors to countries has been tried on various bases, but was usually made on the basis of the relative space occupied by the products of each country respectively, in the Exhibition.

The Great Jury was divided into numerous small juries, who examined the products and prepared lists of the names of persons whom they proposed for awards, and the proposals thus made were confirmed or rejected by higher juries.

The awards consisted chiefly of medals of differents values, gold, silver, etc.

This system brought together a numerous and incongruous assembly, including unavoidably many individuals unqualified for the work.

The basis of representation was apparently fair, but its results were delusive.

A few countries nearest the Exhibition, whose products could be collected and exposed at the smallest proportional expense, occupied large spaces; the numerous remote countries filled smaller spaces.

The number of jurors allotted to the smaller spaces, when distributed, left them without jurors on most classes, and in the remainder with only a minority which, in voting on awards, had no weight, and the awards were thus in effect decreed by the few contiguous countries whose products filled the largest spaces. Written reports on the products were not usually made by juries, and, if made, were not generally published; consequently no person outside of the jury was informed on what ground awards were made.

The medals, when distributed, were as silent as the verdicts; moral responsibility for the decisions attached to no one, and the awards thus made conveyed as little useful information, and carried as little weight, as anonymous work usually carries.

Medals, at best, are enigmas. They express nothing exactly and definitely relative to the products exhibited; their allegorical designs doubtless have a meaning in the mind of the artist who makes them, but allegorical designs are primitive and feeble language, and the medal of to-day is no more than its predecessor, a schoolboy token—verdicts upon products determined by majority votes of juries in which the producing countries are often represented by useless minorities—awards based upon anonymous reports, or reports never published, and final decisions announced and recorded in the vague and mystic language of medals, have not proved satisfactory to producers nor to the public. As regards the diffusion of reliable and useful information, International Exhibitions have not come fully up to expectations and to the promise implied in the great labor and great expenses which they involved; and the wide-spread dissatisfaction which has uniformly followed the close of jury-work affords in itself strong evidence that the system is not well adapted to the purposes of International Exhibitions.

The method of awards adopted by the Centennial Commission differs from preceding systems. It dispenses with the International Jury, and substitutes a body of two hundred judges, one-half foreign, chosen individually for their high qualifications.

It dispenses, also, with the system of awards by graduated medals, and requires of the judges written reports on the inherent and comparative merits of each product thought worthy of an award, setting forth the properties and qualities, presenting the considerations forming the ground of the award, and avouching each report by the signature of its author.

The professional judgment and moral responsibility of the judges being thus involved, assure the integrity of their reports. As awards to exhibitors, such reports will be more valuable than medals, in proportion to the greater amount of reliable information which they convey to the public. Their collected republication, as hand-books, will form valuable guides for all classes to the most advanced products of every country, and, last and least, the sales of them can hardly fail to return to the Commission a good portion of their cost.

The success of this method obviously depends on the judicious selection of the judges, and to this point I desire to call particular attention.

In this connection it may be remarked that the best judges of products are not usually found among their producers, but among their consumers.

To select a wine, for example, of particular character, one would not apply to wine-growers, but to dealers and consumers. On the merits of an engine, you would prefer the opinion of the engineer who uses it, to that of the engineer who invented or made it. The sugars and coffees of Brazil, Cuba, Java, etc., are best judged in the great markets of consumption. In brief, the food-products of the world find their most accurate appreciations, as regards their inherent qualities and comparative merits, in the great consuming markets, where similar products from all regions are gathered, and the practical judgment of the using and consuming public is pronounced, from which there is no appeal.

The principle in this applies not only to raw products, but in a general sense to manufactures and to industrial products of all kinds in general use.

In this view of the subject, the method of awards adopted by the Centennial Commission presents the great advantage that it is judicial rather than representative, and the Commission is perfectly free to select judges from the best sources, regardless of localities.

The men to seek for are those who, by their ability, education, character, and experience, are fittest for the work, and they will be less difficult to find than to obtain, being generally employed, and frequently connected with large industries, important works, and the higher institutions to which their superior qualifications have led them.

Freedom to choose our judges from the best sources cannot fail to produce good results if the selection be made upon proper investigation, with suitable care and without favor.

The announcement of this method of awards has been received in foreign countries, as far as heard from, with expressions of distinct approbation, and there can be no doubt that they will select and bring to us their hundred judges, who will be distinguished by their reliable and solid qualifications, and it is incumbent on us to select a body of men of character, able and expert in their respective callings, and equal in attainments and experience to our foreign cooperatives, with whom our own will be intimately associated.

I need hardly add that the useful results and success of our Exhibition and the public satisfaction which it should produce, as well as the reputation of this Commission, as practical and sensible men, depend largely on the selection of our judges, and finally upon their organization and work. . . .

Respectfully submitted, N. M. Beckwith.
New York, October 9. 1875.