Take a Trip with Souvenir Viewbooks

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.

Souvenir viewbooks (top to bottom) for San Francisco and California; Des Moines, Iowa; St. Louis, Missouri; New York, New York; Boulder Dam. Photo by Jan Grenci, Feb. 2017.

Souvenir viewbooks (top to bottom) for San Francisco and California; Des Moines, Iowa; St. Louis, Missouri; New York, New York; Boulder Dam. Photo by Jan Grenci, March 2017.

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.

<em>Souvenir folder of the Columbia River Highway, Oregon.</em> Postcard folder, published by Lipschutz & Katz, copyrighted by C. T. Teich & Co., 1926. Photo by Jan Grenci, Feb. 2017.

Souvenir folder of the Columbia River Highway, Oregon. Postcard folder, published by Lipschutz & Katz, copyrighted by C. T. Teich & Co., 1926. Photo by Jan Grenci, March 2017.

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?

<em>Souvenir of Philadelphia. </em> Souvenir viewbook with postcard folder, 1923. Photo by Jan Grenci, Feb. 2017.

Souvenir of Philadelphia. Souvenir viewbook with postcard folder, 1923. Photo by Jan Grenci, March 2017.


Viewbooks can be comprised of photographs, lithographs, or engravings. Some include charming drawings, such as those found in An Inkling of Buffalo, shown below.

<em>An Inkling of Buffalo.</em> Souvenir viewbook published and copyrighted by C. W. Sumner, 1886. Photo by Jan Grenci, Feb. 2017.

An Inkling of Buffalo. Souvenir viewbook published and copyrighted by C. W. Sumner, 1886. Photo by Jan Grenci, March 2017.

Interior page of <em>An Inkling of Buffalo.</em> Souvenir viewbook published and copyrighted by C. W. Sumner, 1886. Photo by Jan Grenci, Feb. 2017.

Interior page of An Inkling of Buffalo. Souvenir viewbook published and copyrighted by C. W. Sumner, 1886. Photo by Jan Grenci, March 2017.

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.

<em>General Government and State Capitol Buildings of the United States.</em> Souvenir viewbook published by Allen & Ginter, copyrighted by The Gast Lith. & Eng. Co., 1890.

General Government and State Capitol Buildings of the United States. Souvenir viewbook published by Allen & Ginter, copyrighted by The Gast Lith. & Eng. Co., 1890. Photo by Jan Grenci, March 2017.

Interior page of <em>General Government and State Capitol Buildings of the United States.</em> Souvenir viewbook published by Allen & Ginter, copyrighted by The Gast Lith. & Eng. Co., 1890.

Interior page of General Government and State Capitol Buildings of the United States. Souvenir viewbook published by Allen & Ginter, copyrighted by The Gast Lith. & Eng. Co., 1890. Photo by Jan Grenci, March 2017.

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!

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2 Comments

  1. George Layman
    March 8, 2018 at 9:47 pm

    I really enjoy looking at these vintage postcard view books. I have quite a few myself. I was a postcard collector and have thousands of old postcards. I don’t know what will become of them because my grand kids don’t seem interested. When I would vacation with my wife I’d gather some old postcard views of the place we were visiting and I take a current photo of the postcard view, sort of a “Then & Now” type of shot. Also the used postcards have interesting postage stamps, postmarks and messages written then. Many historic books of cities, towns etc use old postcard pictures because they are wonderful records of the past. Photography was expensive and few people would “waste” a photo on a scene unless it included a family member but postcard printers wanted scenes and sent professional photographers out to take local views, they’d make up sets of 10-20 different scenes and sell them in local drug, general and cigar stores. Those old scenes are the ones we see today, thanks to the postcard printers who gave us a treasure trove of time gone by…

  2. David Winters
    March 9, 2018 at 2:52 am

    Here’s some more information on the Allen and Ginter Government Buildings Booklet. This booklet was a cigarette premium that you sent away for once you collected a certain number of certificates in Allen and Ginter cigarette packs. It complimented the 50 card set that were included individually in packs that contained five cigarettes. The fifty card set is know as the N14 in the American Card Catalogue and the album is referred to as the A10. The cards and album were issued in 1888-1889

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