One hundred years from the I Fira de Mostres in Barcelona in 1920.

In the afternoon of 23rd October 1920, representatives of institutions and what we refer to today as civil society opened the first Trade Fair in Barcelona, at the start of the Catalan capital’s career as a host to fairs and congresses and the existence of Fira de Barcelona itself.

In that first act, Antoni Martínez i Domingo, Mayor of Barcelona for the Lliga Regionalista party, gave a speech to the assembled audience to express his satisfaction but also to protest the many difficulties that the organization of the fair had to overcome. The project was jeopardised on more than one occasion by the social unrest that dogged Barcelona, the instability of the central government and the failure of an economy that was incapable of controlling the cost of living or employment in a Europe in crisis following the recent end of the great war.

Mayor Martínez i Domingo supported the idea of Barcelona having its own stable trade fair to showcase its industrial and commercial sectors, expressing this in the following terms: “Barcelona has the capacity to maintain the privileged place it has earned in the new industrial and commercial order that has taken root in Europe after the war. Our goal in organizing this fair is to show that Catalan industry is prepared to compete against the best that other countries can offer”.

The Fira de Mostres was a showcase for important advances. The Organizing Committee had taken great pains to explain to the press and citizenry that the purpose of a fair of this nature was to promote a modern economy, bringing producers and purchasers together at the same place and time and offering them practical, effective facilities to fulfil their expectations. Careful study of the most prestigious trade fairs in Europe, in Leipzig and Lyon, resulted in the preparation of guidelines to optimize the functions and physical space of a trade fair, with models of stands and signs, centralized services for exhibitors and supervision of hospitality for foreign visitors. There was also a committee set up to decorate the stands, chaired by the celebrated playwright and scenographer Adrià Gual. Also, the term de Mostres, was used to indicate that this was an industrial fair, where the producers displayed the goods they made or sold for their business, but which were not intended for the general public.

The I Fira de Mostres was a success for the city and citizens. And for its earliest backers –l’Associació Nacional de Fabricants de Joguines and l’Associació d’Atracció de Forasters-; the institutions Barcelona City Council and the Mancomunitat of Catalonia – a product of the reforming nature of political catalanism; the economic entities of the city –Chamber of Commerce and Navigation and the National Works Agency-,and the twenty-five women and men who worked in the offices of the Fira de Mostres, in the city’s Palau de la Llotja. It was the success of an international business event organized in a Europe scarred by the Great War.

The statistics -250,000 visitors, 1,246 exhibitors and 15 million pesetas in business transactions- are evidence of the importance of that I Fira de Mostres in Barcelona 1920, which opened to the public from 24 October to 10 November. Its success was fruit of the new economy based in the local production of consumer goods, many of which formed part of the leisure habits and lifestyle that was starting to emerge. A brief look at the adverts in the official catalogue of the Fira de Mostres is proof of this: cars, medicines, fashion and beauty products, wines and champagne, household goods, sporting goods, toys, typewriters, kitchenware or bath fittings, photography and cinema equipment, electrical items and adding machines.

The city enjoyed a stimulating experience which put Barcelona at the forefront of European modernity, which was enhanced further by the International Exhibition of 1929. There were days devoted to trade, but also to debates on economics and culture. Casa Amèrica organized conferences to cement the connections between continents and the Palau de la Música hosted musical events with the Orfeó Donostiarra choir and the Orchestra of Pau Casals as their main attractions.

Barcelona’s Fira de Mostres was held every year for 70 years, excepting the period of the Spanish Civil War, and continued until 1991, the year before the Olympic Games which contributed so much to the transformation and projection of Barcelona. It was the source of many individual or specialist shows and was an essential showcase for modernity, trends and progress, especially in the difficult years for business and society under the regime of General Franco.

At the closure of that first edition, which we are commemorating in 2020, the Organizing Committee summed up the spirit of the fairs and shows in the following terms: “The Fira is not about showing off products for the amazement of visitors, but to bring buyers and sellers together in the same place at the same time”. It was last-century networking.

Marià Hispano i Vilaseca
Archivo General de Fira de Barcelona (AGFB)