Viewbooks: Window into America
Curators: Teresa Harris and Lena Newman
June 20, 2016-December 23, 2016
Monday – Friday: 9:00am – 5:00pm
Avery Classics Reading Room, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library
Avery Library opens its summer exhibition with a delightful display of selections from its American Viewbooks collection. The exhibit celebrates the completion of our CLIR Hidden Collections grant project
The Rare Book and Manuscript Section of the American Library Association defines viewbooks as a type of published booklet “consisting primarily of views of particular places, events, and activities, sometimes connected by accordion folds.” Avery Classics holds more than 4,000 such titles, focusing almost exclusively on American towns and cities at the end of the 19th- and beginning of the 20th-century. These ephemeral publications were originally intended for a variety of purposes – as souvenirs to be purchased by tourists, as advertisements to prospective residents, and as published records of specific events. Heavily illustrated, viewbooks often include images of new civic buildings, businesses on Main Street and various other features of the local built environment.
For today’s researcher, viewbooks are a wonderful window into a past America, one in the midst of rapid urban and suburban development. Viewbooks have survived as accidental records of the changing architectural landscape across America at the turn of the century. They chronicle the developing and uniquely-American vernacular architecture vocabulary. They also provide a window into the rapidly changing printing and publishing landscape. Making use of new technologies to reproduce photographs quickly and cheaply, viewbooks are an excellent way to approach the history of printing and the accessibility of printed matter. Finally, viewbooks give modern-day readers a glimpse of how towns and cities across the country – some still thriving, others long faded – presented themselves and positioned themselves for the future. From New Holstein, Wisconsin to New York City, Viewbooks represent a place’s attempt to put its best foot forward and to situate itself in the greater American cultural landscape.