Viewbooks : Window into America
With generous support from the CLIR Hidden Collections grant project, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library was able to catalog its long-held, but long-hidden, collection of American viewbooks. This multi-year project revealed the depth of Avery's extensive viewbook collection - more than 4,000 items representing big cities and small towns, famous landmarks and ones long since forgotten - a unique historic catalog of our nation's changing landscape. This online exhibit showcases a selection of 50 viewbooks from Avery's collection.
The American Library Association's Rare Book and Manuscript Section defines the word viewbook as a genre term to be used, “For published booklets consisting primarily of views of particular places, events, and activities, sometimes connected by accordion folds.” Avery's viewbooks collection focuses 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, 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 provide a record of America's changing architectural landscape and chronicle a developing and uniquely-American vernacular architecture vocabulary. Viewbooks give modern-day readers a glimpse at how towns and cities across the country – some still thriving, others long faded – packaged themselves in their present and positioned themselves for the future.
This exhibition was created by Lena Newman, Avery Classics Assistant