Viewbooks : Window into America

Other Subgenres

Sometimes, the opening of a grand new building or the occasion of a local festival merited a viewbook of its own. Avery's collection includes viewbooks devoted to state hospitals and prisons, major universities and smaller colleges, and various iterations of great exhibitions and the World's Fair. Other subgenres of the viewbook seem to be tied to advances in commercial printing and methods of photographic reproduction, including novelty formats like the folding Saint Augustine, Florida flower (seen earlier in this exhibit), or the viewbooks devoted solely to night views of a particular city, as seen below.


Night in Washington. Cover.

Night in Washington. New York, 1918.

AA735 W2 N56 S c.1

Click here for item information Night in Washington.

AA735 W2 N56 S c.2

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Night Views

Viewbooks comprised exclusively of images taken at night are a subgenre of viewbooks in their own right. Night in Washington, Night in New Orleans, Night in Memphis – all are made up of night views reproduced through photoengraving. In photoengraving, photographs are printed onto plates. Some sort of photoresist is then applied to the plate before engraving so that part of the image is not engraved and subsequently does not appear in the printed image.

The result is visible in this opening in Night in Washington. The foreground of the images, including the monuments in focus, appear to be in a front layer, cut out and pasted onto the background. These images also feature dramatic lighting, the result of electricity, in an effort to highlight the modern nature of these cities.



Views of Dannemora, N.Y, Clinton Prison and Dannemora State Hospital.

Views of Dannemora, N.Y., Clinton Prison and Dannemora State Hospital. Dannemora, [191-?].

AA735 D223 V67 S

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Prisons and Hospitals

Perhaps more than any other, this viewbook illustrates the early 20th century Progressive values that are implicit in many of the other viewbooks in Avery’s collection. While most viewbooks include an image of the town library, jail or hospital, Views of Dannemora, N.Y. focuses almost exclusively on the Clinton Prison and the Dannemora State Hospital. Images from inside the institutions show the decorated prison chapel, a sparkling clean hospital ward and prisoners at work in the prison’s tidy cotton mill. Rather than skim over the fact that Dannemora is home to both a prison and a state hospital, this viewbook seems to frame those institutions in the light of the turn-of-the-century Progressivism. Views of the Clinton Prison show a place of reform, not one of punishment. In this particular copy, an image of the Dannemora State Hospital has been annotated by a former occupant, “Our rooms marked by a cross (x).”



Fourth Annual Festival of Mountain and Plain : official program. Cover.

Fourth annual Festival of Mountain and Plain: official program. Denver, [1898].

AA735 D43 F82 S

Click here for item information Official souvenir, 31 National Encampment, G. A. R., Buffalo, N.Y. : August 23-28, '97.  Cover.

Official souvenir, 31st national encampment, G.A.R., Buffalo, N.Y.: August 23-28, ’97. Grand Army of the Republic. Buffalo, 1886.

AA735 B86 G76

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Major Events

These examples are representative of another genre of viewbooks - printed souvenirs meant to commemorate specific local events. The Festival of Mountain and Plain was a celebration of pioneer days in the Old West held in Denver beginning in 1895. Festivities included a Grand Peace Jubilee, parades and a mock battle in City Park. Elaborate floats celebrated famous historical events including the landing of Columbus and the Louisiana Purchase and tracked “the story of our western advancement from savagery to civilization.”

This booklet, in the shape of a buffalo head, is the official souvenir booklet from the 31st National Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). Published by The Courier Company in Buffalo, this viewbook showcases the history of the GAR, past encampment locations; and the sights and amenities of the host city.

Columbia University Libraries / Butler Library / 535 West 114th St. / New York, NY 10027 / (212) 854-7309 /