The following is a guest post by Jan Grenci, Reference Specialist for Posters, Prints and Photographs Division.
When you take a vacation, do you buy souvenirs to remember the sights you see?
Over the past few months, several reference staff members and I worked on a project to improve the access and housing of the Prints and Photographs (P&P) Division’s Souvenir Viewbooks Collection. The 1,100 or so viewbooks in the collection primarily depict the U.S., but also include some foreign countries. Most date from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries. For the most part, items came to this collection as copyright deposits or as a part of the Wittemann Collection, which came to the Library of Congress in 1953.
As the name suggests, viewbooks are usually small books of views, and often have distinctive covers meant to catch the eye of tourists, such as the examples at right. Tourists would purchase a viewbook, as they would a postcard, as a memento of their travels. The collection also includes a number of accordion fold postcard booklets, like the one below of views along the Columbia River Highway in Oregon.
I’ve worked in P&P for many years, but I’ve spent very little time with the Souvenir Viewbooks. What a shame! This small collection has a lot going for it. There are so many hidden gems that I hardly know where to begin! How about with a viewbook of Philadelphia shaped like the Liberty Bell?
Viewbooks can be comprised of photographs, lithographs, or engravings. Some include charming drawings, such as those found in An Inkling of Buffalo, shown below.
They picture street scenes, new and notable buildings, and majestic views. The book featured below takes us on a tour of General Government and State Capitol Buildings of the United States. Every state in the union is covered in the Souvenir Viewbooks Collection, though some were yet to be states at the time of publication. Sadly, Delaware and Nevada are underrepresented with only one viewbook each.
This collection is one of the Prints and Photographs Reading Room’s browsing files, accessible to all who visit us to use the collections in person. So, the next time you travel to Washington, D.C. plan a trip to the Prints and Photographs Reading Room and step back in time with the Souvenir Viewbooks!
- Explore the digitized images from the Souvenir Viewbooks Collection in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
- Read about the Souvenir Viewbooks Collection in the guide record.
- Viewbooks can include postcards, though the Souvenir Viewbooks Collection is not the only place to find postcards in the Prints and Photographs Division. View some of our digitized postcards in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
- Interested in exploring the Souvenir Viewbooks yourself? Read our Top Tips for Successful Research in the Prints and Photographs Division from our Information for Researchers to learn more about visiting us in person in the Prints and Photographs Reading Room.
- Questions about postcards, souvenir viewbooks or any other collections in the Prints and Photographs Division? Contact us and Ask a Prints and Photographs Librarian.