Origins

The origins of the tourist guide Picturesque Camden are of particular interest, as they correspond to a very specific place in time. Because this book was produced in a very specific small town, its origin story is in fact fairly singular, if not unique. From its origins, one can learn about a particular slice of small-town, 19th century America. The audience is equally specific, as according to a somewhat oblique but telling statement in the early pages, it is intended to appeal to the affluent, East Coast vacationer, a group that was beginning to emerge in earnest at this time. It reflects the aspirations of an entire community, and its combination of literary style and commercial intent. Furthermore, it contains advanced (for the time) images, as well as varying local advertisements in differing formats, representing a cross section of technology and interests.

When studying Picturesque Camden, it is important to consider the place in time it represents. This is not the product of a large market or publisher, but a local newspaper, The Camden Herald, in a provincial town far from the centers of power and culture. This can be determined from the title page, which identifies the book as having been printed by the aforementioned newspaper in Camden itself. Although the book is not made of the highest quality materials, it is professional-looking and contains a large array of images; in all, it is a rather impressive product for a newspaper from a town of a few thousand people. It is clearly intended to promote this town, and as such it is an interesting portrait of communal aspirations. It was paid for by the Camden business community, so one can point to specific interests represented in its publication, with the advertisements in the back allowing a historian to identify some of them by name. One could point to the excellent photographs and illustrations as indications of local wealth, or at the very least significant investment in its publication, allowing a glimpse into the economic and social milieu from whence it originated. Camden was not a shipbuilding center like some other Maine towns, so it lacked the kind of developed industry that general drove small coastal towns in the late 19th century. The publication of this book could not have been inexpensive, especially given its liberal use of photographs, so it clearly has its origin in a community that had a significant vision and a need to generate tourist interest.

The physical nature of the book also indicates its intended audience. It is a slim volume, clearly meant to serve as a travel sized book, and with the intention that it serve as a practical guide as well as a promotional device. Unfortunately, it lacks a price tag, so elements of its origins must be left as question marks. Where was it originally distributed; was it a local guide given to passing travellers, or was it sent out to the cities where wealthy would-be tourists resided? Perhaps most significantly, was it free, like a brochure, or was it something a potential adventurer would purchase to get the lay of the land? In regard to the latter question, it seems unlikely given the book’s liberal use of photographs, which would probably have made it too expensive to give out for free; in addition, it seems questionable as to whether a small-town newspaper could afford to give away something of this size away in any significant volume. Finally, one has to consider that Camden’s (at the time) relatively undiscovered status as recreation area, which is actually alluded to in the book, would make widespread distribution an important goal if any sort of promotion were to pay off.

If the book was for sale, it would be intriguing to see how many copies were produced and how widely it was distributed. One can infer based on certain elements of its composition that it was intended to be distributed in relatively large numbers. It is not particularly ornate, with its one advanced detail, the photographs, serving a decidedly functional purpose. It is printed on utilitarian wood pulp paper, bound with stab stitching, a less durable and expensive technique than others, and is of generally flimsy paperback construction. All of these factors would lead one to suspect that it was designed for quantity and not quality. Given that the book has a clear promotional intent and was designed to generate business, there is a good chance that this is the case, but a look at its small-town origins could lead one to believe otherwise. Since the Camden Herald was and is a small, local newspaper, and Camden is a very small town by any standard, it is possible that these materials were simply the only ones available, due either to cost or technological and material limitations. Unfortunately, the lack of a price tag limits any of these conclusions to the realm of conjecture, but in this case it seems important to consider the rural origin of the book when interpreting its physical structure

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A map of Camden, Maine included in the back

The book originated in this area