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Photography as Souvenirs

The camera has become a part of American life. The consumer culture surrounding the development of events like worlds fairs increased the demand for items to remember one’s trips. These lavish and ephemeral events provided the ideal way to market albums, stereograph cards, viewbooks, and programs heavily illustrated with photographs as keepsakes. The portability of cameras has made documentation of travel possible, and the transition from plate to film made obtaining prints and lasting memories easier and far more affordable.

Over nearly two centuries, technological advances have made the camera simpler and more compact. Collapsible and folding cameras supplanted the large box camera by the 1850s; the incorporation of expanding bellows enabled cameras to become lighter and more portable. The invention of roll film in the late 1880s inspired a greater demand for cameras among the amateur set. Kodak released its first mass-market small box camera that used roll film. Miniature cameras became popular in the 1890s and into the twentieth century. The Kodak Brownie, introduced in 1900, is credited with the democratization of photography. The 35mm camera allowed photographers to take 36 shots in rapid succession on a single roll of film.

Today, the availability of digital cameras in cell phones has made it even easier for photographs to be taken on-the-go and shared. With instant posting of virtual albums to digital clouds, souvenir albums and stereocard viewers such as those shown in this case are rapidly becoming antiquities of American material culture.


Cover of Savannah illustrated viewbookSavannah illustrated : indelible photographs. New York : A. Wittemann (New York : Albertype Co.), 1896.

The Brooklyn-based Albertype Company was in business from 1890-1952, publishing postcards and viewbooks. Albertypes were the first successful collotype method, invented by Joseph Albert in Bavaria. Collotypes used bichromated gelatin layers for exposure and printing.





W. A. McDermid.

Chalmers-Detroit "30" : from flag to flag : blazing the way for the Wahlgreen Trophy Contest. Detroit : Chalmers-Detroit Motor Co., circa 1910.

The January 1910 issue of Motor Age reported the season’s automobile contests: 15 road races, 22 reliability runs, 15 hill climbs, and 45 track meets. Mr. G.A. Wahlgreen of Denver offered a trophy for the 2400-mile reliability run from Denver to Mexico City, a much anticipated repeat of the 1909 event that had required 28 running days. W.A. McDermid reported the story of the 1910 race in a Chalmers-Detroit model “30” from records supplied by the men who made the trip. The road trip photographs are a fascinating, integral part of the report.






Stereograph viewer and four stereographic views of the Chicago World’s Fair, 1893.
Worlds’ fairs and expositions collection

Construction progress of each worlds’ fair site with its distinctive pavilions was a favorite photographic subject.

Cover of Saint Louis Photo-Art Prints

Saint Louis photo-art prints. Saint Louis : C. Witter, 1911.

Official and personal souvenirs of the worlds’ fairs and international exhibitions provide excellent samples of photographic processes, easily dated by the subjects depicted. The Saint Louis souvenir shown here marketed “photo-art prints,” reflecting the growing stature of photography for home recreational and educational consumption. The photographic plates in this period binding are mounted on grey art paper.




Cover of New York World's Fair : illustrated by cameraNew York World's Fair (1939-1940)

New York World's Fair : illustrated by camera. New York : Manhattan Post Card Publishing, 1939.

Frank Xavier Riedy (1867-1957)

Night and day: two panoramic photographs of the Panama Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, 1915.
Frank Xavier Riedy photographs of the Panama Pacific International Exposition
gift of Robert and Mae Carter

Frank Riedy moved from Ohio to San Francisco in 1898. He worked for the lens company Bausch and Lomb and soon became fascinated with photography, experimenting with early color processes of autochrome and omnicolore. A larger collection of his photography is available at the University of California at Berkeley. The sample at the University of Delaware Library is a gift of his granddaughter, longtime Newark resident Mae Carter. The 1915 panoramic photographs shown here feature the crowning structure of the Panama Pacific International Exposition, the “Tower of Jewels.” This 433-foot tower was bejeweled with thousands of Austrian glass fragments called “nova gems” that glittered by sunlight. Spotlights illuminated and bedazzled the sparkling gems at night, creating a wondrous site to let the world know that San Francisco had recovered from its 1906 earthquake.

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