William Cullen Bryant, editor. Picturesque America; or, The Land We Live In.
New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1872-74. In 48 original fascicles with blue wrappers. Volume I: viii, 567pp., 24 steel engraved views. Volumes II: vi, 576pp., 25 steel engraved views. The wrappers are brittle but the contents of each are clean. Set in two red archival boxes
In some ways, the culmination of the nineteenth century American 'view' or 'gift' book was William Cullen Bryant's Picturesque America. This two volume set went through many editions, and much that the average American of the period would know about the United States came from this work. As stated by Sue Rainey, in her excellent Creating 'Picturesque America.', "As the first publication to celebrate the entire continental nation, it enabled Americans, after the trauma of the Civil War, to construct a national self-image based on reconciliation between North and South and incorporation of the West." (p. xiii) The work consisted of chapters on all the popular parts of the country, each filled with woodcut illustrations. Of special note are the 49 fine, 'picturesque' views produced in precise steel engravings, and drawn by many of the leading artist of the period. An excellent slice of Victorian America.
Picturesque America, was originally published in separate parts, called fascicles, each bound in a blue paper cover and containing one steel engraving, and a section of text. These parts were sent out to subscribers semi-monthly. It is interesting to note that chapters were split between parts so that the subscriber would never be tempted to cancel his or her subscription, as the text was always left incomplete. Once all of one of the volumes had been received, it was intended that the subscriber would have the fascicles bound together, discarding the original paper covers. As almost all subscribers followed this procedure, it is very rare to come across any of the original fascicles, complete with engraving and original paper covers. When such parts are found, it is a treasure, for not only are these true pre-first edition parts of the work, but the paper covers, with their notices to subscribers and advertisements for other works, are delightful.