William Cullen Bryant, editor. Picturesque America; or, The Land We Live In. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1872-74. Two large quarto volumes. Volume I: viii, 567pp.. Volume II: vi, 576pp.. Original gold- and blind-stamped, half leather binding; marbled endpapers and edges. Forty-nine steel engravings plus numerous wood engravings throughout. Clean interior. Binding tight and strong.
A popular form in the nineteenth century, the American “view” or “giftbook” culminated in Picturesque America. Vivid descriptions and detailed engravings highlighted cities and scenery across the country, encompassing both natural and manmade beauty in every region. Featuring work by some of the finest American artists of the period, the book is filled with wood-engravings and, more importantly, forty-nine ‘picturesque’ steel engravings. From these pictures and accompanying descriptions, the average American could learn about parts of the country he might never visit. As Sue Rainey points out in her book, Creating “Picturesque America,” this publication on the eve of the nation’s centennial “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”(xiii). For modern viewers, it offers an excellent snapshot of both the scenery and population of Victorian America.