It’s Fair Week once again!  Though only the rides and amusements are visible from the highway, there’s much more to the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair than a spin or two on the Ferris wheel.  There’s a spirit of friendly competition to be found at the Fair – and I don’t just mean whether or not you win a goldfish in a carnival game.  Even if you don’t have a Narragansett turkey, foundation-pieced quilt, or Rutgers tomato in the running, checking out the premium winners in each category can be both fun and and enlightening (so that’s what makes a perfect Rutgers tomato!).  But before you race off to Gaithersburg to check out this year’s winners, take a look at some historic prizes and premiums from our archival collections.

Note: These are all from the first incarnation of the Fair, held by the Montgomery County Agricultural Society (1846-1932) in Rockville and often known simply as the “Rockville Fair.” The current Fair, held at the Gaithersburg fairgrounds, was started in 1949.

First up, here are two (non-consecutive) pages from the 1876 Fair “List of Premiums,” published by the Montgomery County Agricultural Society.  That year, entries could be made in the broad categories of Horses, Cattle, Sheep, Hogs, Poultry, Dairy, Wheat Crops, Corn Crops, Seed, Flour, Tobacco, Machinery and Agricultural Implements, Carriages (Saddle and Harness), Vegetables, Flowers, Textile Fabrics (the Product of Factories), Home-made Fabrics, Hams, Culinary, Musical Instruments, and Sewing Machines.

 1876 pg 23

1876 pg 29

It can be entertaining to compare entry possibilities from year to year, but if I get going on that track this post will end up miles long, so I’ll stick with one point of comparison: The 1876 premium (e.g., cash prize) “For best crochet work,” above, was $2.00.  According to this inflation calculator, $2.00 in 1876 would equal $42.49 in 2012.  In 2013, the highest premium for crochet is $5.00 – something of a come-down, you might think.  Keep in mind, however, that the 1876 list includes only one crochet option, while the 2013 Home Arts Department 48 (Crocheting) includes 137 entry categories; that’s a lot of premiums to award.

Next, a genuine blue ribbon, awarding First Premium for “SHEEP” at the 1923 Rockville Fair.  The eight inch satin ribbon, made by the Hyatt Mfg Co., Baltimore, is stamped in gold “The Rockville Fair, Rockville, Md., 1923 ~ Sheep ~ First Premium.”  A small card on the back indicates that this was for “Class: Highest,” but does not note the actual breed of sheep; and, sadly, the award appears to have been given to “J.E. [scribble].”  Further research is needed to work out the specifics.

1923 first premium SHEEP

That covers the potential prizes, and the prize itself, but there’s one more important part of the award process (other than the delight in knowing you’ve won, of course): the money.  In 1912, Miss Mary B. Brooke of Derwood (her family home, “Falling Green,” is generally considered part of Olney today) entered an unknown number of items into competition at the Fair.  She won four $2.00 First Premiums, for her Maryland Biscuits, crackers, cross-stitch embroidery, and Swedish embroidery, for a total of $8.00 (minus 80 cents in entry fees).  Oddly enough, according to the same inflation calculator as above, $2.00 in 1912 equals $46.86 in 2013 – the premium only went up a tad from the 1876 amount.

1912 Miss Brooke receipt

Bonus prize! (So to speak):  A First Premium card from the 1928 Rockville Fair.  This little (4 1/4″ x 2″) tag is a sturdy card, with a snazzy font – very appealing – but, sadly, it has no information on it; perhaps it was a left-over, not actually awarded.

1928 first premium

We have other prizes in the artifact and archival collections – a blue ribbon from the 1911 horse show portion of the Fair, a 1913  First Premium card for best Bantams, 1929 Second Premium cards for photographs … but I have to save something for next year’s Fair post, right?

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