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Pike's Opera House Obsolete at Smythe Sale
April 03, 2008

Pike's Opera House a Cincinnati Landmark of Olde

More selections from the vast Obsolete Currency collection of Herb & Martha Schingoethe will cross the auction block next week on April 9th through the auspices of Smythe. In looking over the auction catalog I noticed a few items that especially piqued my curiosity and which I will post about over the next week or so, up until the sale date.

The vignette on lot number 1556 features a large and elegant building under the banner of Pike's Opera House. This note is from Cincinnati, Ohio, dated January 1, 1863 with a value of 25 cents. The note is an unissued remainder, which means that this particular example was never used in commerce.

I like coins, medals, tokens and notes which sport designs of buildings. I guess it's the historian in me, but they always interest me and I like to track down as much information as I can on the building or business. In this case the note itself provides us with much information, including the business name and location. A quick Internet search filled out a great deal more of the interesting history of Pike's Opera House.

Samuel Pike made his money in liquor sales, but he certainly must have admired cultured entertainment. He opened the Opera House on March 15, 1859 and kept it as Cincinnati's sophisticated home of classical drama and music for over 40 years and through two major fires.

The New York Times reported on March 24, 1866 that Pike's Opera House in Cincinnati, Ohio burned down so completely that one of it's walls collapsed into the facing street. In addition several other businesses sustained serious fire damage and loss. Pike estimated the loss at nearly $1,000,000, while the business only had insurance for about $38,000. Initial reports had estimated the damage to Pike's at about $500,000, but that was on March 23rd while the fire was still not under control.

Considering it's nearly total loss, I figured that this would be the end of Pike's, but further searching proved me wrong. By 1867 the Opera House had been rebuilt, like a Phoenix from the ashes. Renowned pianist Anton Rubinstein played at Pike's Opera House several times during the winter of 1872 to 1873. In 1895, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra played at Pike's Opera House while awaiting the completion of the Cincinnati Music Hall. Though Pike did rebuild somehow, troubles for Pike's were not at an end. A second fire struck at the new Pike's Opera House on March 30th, 1902. This fire began during the day, while matinee performances were under way forcing 2,000 people to make their escape from the blaze. The 1902 fire caused only about $10,000 in damage to the building, with addition property damage to various businesses totaling neat $50,000. Though the initial damage report was lower, the second fire at Pike's must have put an end to the business, as I could find no more information about Pike's Opera House after 1903.

The note in the Schingoethe's collection is a great representation of a grand early Cincinnati landmark, with an exciting history. For those interested in Cincinnati it would make a nice addition to a banknote or ephemera collection.

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About the Author
Tom Michael has been Krause Publications primary market analyst on more than 80 world and United States coin catalogs produced over the last 20 years. He came to KP in 1987 with a bachelor of arts degree in history, a master of arts degree in economics and a history of coin collecting stretching back to the 1960s. He began collecting world coins as a child by asking friends and relatives to bring coins back from overseas trips, visiting flea markets and having his mother watch for foreign coins in her register at the local grocery store. Today he works with a dedicated base of over 200 contributors to provide accurate market values for the five-volume Standard Catalog of World Coins series, as well as many specialty catalogs, including Coins & Currency of the Middle East and the fifth edition of Unusual World Coins.

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