“Picturesque Camden” is an 1886 illustrated guide to the Camden, Maine region, written by local author Thaddeus Simonton. It was designed as promotional material by the local business community, and designed to attract summer visitors to what was at the time a relatively undiscovered vacation area. It was printed by the Camden Herald, a local newspaper, and presumably distributed from the Camden area. I picked it because I am a Camden native and I am interested in the fact that it was locally written and produced. This tourist guide is interesting since it bridges the gap between advertising and informational material, and was written and produced with dual intent. It is a relatively slim volume, and printed on lower quality paper, but it contains photographs that use what would have been a very advanced printing method. It has a high number of photographs and illustrations, but despite its modern (for the time) appearance, it is clearly local and provincial, and contains advertisements that even have the distinctive graphics of Camden businesses. I think it is interesting that it is such an intersection of advanced technology and low-quality materials, and that it retains so many distinctive local typographical features.
The book covers a variety of topics about the Camden area, from history to geography, but always with a promotional slant. The history portions include a general overview of the town’s founding from colonial times up until the date of publication. It also covers its establishment as a resort destination, and compares it to other well-known recreation areas like Newport and Mount Desert Island. The author details the nature of the town itself, and describes in detail the hotels and other amenities available to travellers. He also remarks extensively on the physical geography of the area, expounding on Camden’s fame as the place “where the mountains meet the sea.”
The cover is distinctively blue, and has a photogravure with a title superimposed onto it. The issue of photogravures will be addressed in greater detail later, as it was an extremely advanced technology for the time. However, the cover itself is rather flimsy, and is printed on what is essentially card stock. The binding is attached with a technique known as stab stitching, which would have been inexpensive and relatively rudimentary at the time. The cheap nature of this stitching is well demonstrated by the fact that has aged poorly, and has in fact disintegrated in many places. The inside of the binding shows tears as well, so presumably it was roughly handled at one point, although given the weak binding it is perhaps just a further reflection of its overall weakness. However, given that it was printed at a local printing shop, this is probably to be expected.
The paper on which the actual text is printed is likewise relatively cheap, and has similarly aged in a less than exemplary manner. It was made with wood pulp, a cheaper process, and has a distinctly crunchy feel and yellow tone. It shows cracks rather than tears, and where it has torn it has come of in relatively even sections, indicating disintegration rather than trauma. Again, this seems fairly typical given the local nature of the printing, and the fact that the focus was not on producing a valuable piece so much as a promotional material. Furthermore, the page close easily, leading one to suspect that it was not handled very much.
The photographs in the book are one of the most interesting elements of the piece. Although they would be considered low quality by today’s standards, the printing method represents a major advance for the time period. According to an attribution on the back inside cover, they are photogravures, a printing process that was in its infancy at the time of publication. The tissue paper pages that precede each photo indicates that there was a real risk of ink bleeding through onto the next page without a protective layer, an indication of the general roughness of the photo printing and production process. The photos pages are a thicker, card-like material rather than the glossy pages we would associate with modern books. Finally, the overall number of photos for such a small book is quite high, leading one to suspect that the process was not particularly expensive.
Overall, the book is intriguing both as a physical text and as a sociological object. It represents the application of relatively cheap materials for a promotional purpose in an early time period, and is an interesting showcase of consumer quality printing and production methods in the late 19th-century. The photographic printing method used in the book is of particular interest given its advanced nature for the time, and the varying typefaces used in the advertisements provide myriad avenues of investigation.
The front cover of “Picturesque Camden”