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Quintessential Travel Books of 19th Century America

Following the American Civil War, the US began to expand West into previously uncharted territories, acquiring states and laying down rail lines. In an effort to promote travel and to unify the divided nation, publishers looked to artists and writers to create works that inspired pride in America and moved people to explore the diverse and gorgeous landscapes for themselves.  

Many works published post-Civil War were patterned on American Scenery, published in London by George Virtue in 1840. American Scenery was one of British artist William Bartlett’s most important and desirable collections of engravings.

The capital work of this era was William Cullen Bryant’s 1872 two-volume edition Picturesque America. Other publishers quickly capitalized on the book’s popularity, most using wood and steel engravings to illustrate the diverse beauty of the natural world of the US. Works published toward the end of the 19th century also began to integrate the new technology of photography into their books, although traveling with a camera and developing the prints during this time was a very cumbersome task.


Picturesque America (1872)

Edited by William Cullen Bryant

Picturesque America was first published by Appleton’s as a serial, received semi-monthly by subscribers. Once their subscription was complete, the serials would be bound into a two-volume set, with a variety of binding options available for the original 1872 and 1874 books. Picturesque America took readers on a tour of America through art and writing. It included 65 essays written by various authors and was illustrated by 900 wood and 50 steel engravings. The engravings were done by a variety of high skilled artists off of original drawings, mostly composed by artist Harry Fenn, the most prominent landscape illustrator in the US at the time.


American Illustrated (1875)

edited by David J. Williams

Published by The Echo Press in 1875, America Illustrated used words and images to celebrate America’s natural wonders. The book pays a lot of attention to Yellowstone – which became the world’s first national park in 1872.


Across the Continent 

By Samuel Bowles

First published by Samuel Bowles & Company in 1865, Across the Continent: A Summer’s Journey to the Rocky Mountains, The Mormons, And the Pacific States, with Speaker Colfax celebrated a country that was just reunited at the end of the Civil War. Schuyler Colfax was the 25th Speaker of the House of Representatives, serving from 1863-1869, just prior to becoming Vice President of the United States under President Ulysses S. Grant.


Across America (1874)

By James Rusling

First published by Sheldon & Company in 1874, Across America recounts the travels of General James F. Rusling. After serving the Union during the Civil War, Rusling set out on a tour of the West as an inspector for the Quartermasters office, and his journey is documented in this book.

First edition of Across America for sale by James Cummins Bookseller

American Scenery, Illustrated (1854)

Published by Leavitt & Allen, New York in 1854, American Scenery by T. Addison Richards was patterned on the 1840 book illustrated by William H. Bartlett. This work includes 32 engraved plates, including the frontispiece and title vignette.


Adventures in the Wilds of the United States and British American Provinces (1856)

By Charles Lanman

Adventures in the Wilds of the United State and British American Provinces, by author and explorer Charles R. Lanman, was first published in the US by John W. Moore, Philadelphia, in 1856. The travelogue covers the middle part of America, from Florida to the Mississippi River and up to Canada. The American edition features 12 full-page engravings.

First American Edition of Adventures in the Wilds for sale by Dennis Holzman Antiques

Our Native Land (1882)

This book, written by George T. Ferris was published by Appleton & Company in 1882. The original work features 336 illustrations.

1889 edition of Our Native Land for sale by My Book Heaven

America’s Wonderlands (1893)

America’s Wonderlands: a pictorial and descriptive history of our country’s scenic marvels as delineated by pen and camera by J.W. Buel was first published in 1893. It includes more than 500 illustrations and photographs capturing the grandeur of the nation from Alaska to Florida. Buel was an editor for Kansas City and St. Louis Press and a very prolific author. Many of his books centered on adventures in the West, including Life of Wild Bill the Scout and The Border Bandits about Jesse and Frank James.

First edition of America’s Wonderlands for sale by PickfordsBooks

If you love collections that feature travel journals, exploration guides, and maps, you’ll love to shop the wares at the upcoming Biblio.live: The Great Outdoors. The virtual book fair will be live through August 4 – 7, 2022 – preregister to buy and get $10 to spend during the fair!

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