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Guidebooks for Time Travelers
November 1, 2013 11:12 PM   Subscribe

Numerous "Stranger's Guides" written for 19th Century tourists can be found on the Internet Archive. A sample: New York (1828). Boston (1857). Washington DC (1884). Montreal (1872). London (1828). Paris (1822). United States and Canada (1838).
posted by ShooBoo (16 comments total) 59 users marked this as a favorite

Cool. Probably a little more out of date than the WPA state guidebooks (text).
posted by gottabefunky at 12:00 AM on November 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I especially like the title page of the London guide:

And Stranger's Guide;





To avoid the Stratagems of Swindlers, Tricks of Thieves, Gamblers, Cyprians, and all who Live by Plundering those they appear to befriend; with a few cautionary and instructive Remarks on --

posted by ShooBoo at 12:23 AM on November 2, 2013 [8 favorites]

I'm reading the Paris one, as I happen to be in Paris right now, and it's amazing how similar this almost 200 year old guidebook is to one I might purchase today. It starts out with some useful information for the traveller concerning currency and measurements, gives details on how to travel to the city in question, then makes some general remarks on the geography of the various neighborhoods. Just as a modern guidebook will give some general remarks on cafes in Paris and then list some particularly good ones, Galignani's Paris Guide says "amongst such numbers of coffee houses the following are most remarkable". Sadly the Café de la Paix is no longer around, as it used to be "where rope-dancing and music are performed gratis, while the visitors are refreshing themselves."
posted by tractorfeed at 3:24 AM on November 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

"There are also other subterranean haunts in the Palais Royal, dedicated to the union of Venus and Mercury; where the stranger... may descend, and he will be sure to have his particular goût gratified to the fullness of his wishes, and emptiness of his pockets."

plus ça change...
posted by tractorfeed at 3:28 AM on November 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

tractorfeed ellipsed the best part!

... where the stranger, disposed to be pillaged by Greeks of all countries, or cajoled out of his cash by courtezans, may descend ...
posted by kanewai at 4:20 AM on November 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sadly the Café de la Paix is no longer around, as it used to be "where rope-dancing and music are performed gratis, while the visitors are refreshing themselves."

It is still there. No word on the rope dancing.
posted by sebastienbailard at 4:46 AM on November 2, 2013

I had thought that was the same one too, but it opened some forty years after the guidebook was written. Glad you linked to that page, though, because now I want to track down episodes of the "This is Paris" radio show. Also: what is rope dancing?
posted by tractorfeed at 5:14 AM on November 2, 2013

Rope Dancing. At least, I assume it meant the same thing then that it does now.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 5:21 AM on November 2, 2013

New York had only one high school, on Crosby between Grand and Broome. On the other hand, it had a hundred bookstores: "Our bookstores are well supplied with a constant succession of new as well as standard works; and are the most agreeable lounging places for strangers."
posted by languagehat at 6:51 AM on November 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Spent an hour reading the Paris entry. Some amazing curlicues regarding, say, Bar Maids. Or Restaurants and Cafés.

Flick through the dull shit, (weights and measures, price of a cab from Dieppe to Nantes, iconography of every church façade from here to Christmas), and it's pretty cool.
posted by Wolof at 6:51 AM on November 2, 2013

I love my 1892 Vistors' guide to New York because it's the most middle class Victorian thing I've ever read in that, as a guide book, it starts off with a 300 page history of the city, it's famous people and forts, geology, and native plants.

Followed closely by an index of churches, broken down into the most microscopic Prodestant detail.
posted by The Whelk at 7:01 AM on November 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was really hoping for a later version for London, but the early ones will keep me plenty busy. The Internet Archive is full of such fantastic finds.
posted by immlass at 7:42 AM on November 2, 2013

The guidebook to Boston is still pretty accurate. Custom house, Frog Pond, Fanueil Hall, Public Library, Athenaeum.
posted by clockbound at 7:52 AM on November 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

The earliest seem to just predate Baedeker, which itself is interesting.

Some place in storage I have a copy of Descrittione di Roma antica e moderna, (1643) which has much of interest but absolutely no practical advice on where to stay or what to eat or how to behave or whom to avoid. Now I'm wondering who was first to put that sort of thing into a guide book.

New York had only one high school, on Crosby between Grand and Broome.

One public high school, maybe. The Collegiate School dates back to 1628, Trinity to 1709. Which helps explain why there were no public highschools. That, and the book stores, perhaps.

(I prefer funambulism to rope dancing just because it sounds more entertaining.)
posted by BWA at 9:45 AM on November 2, 2013

These have the quality of a RPG module.. descriptions of rooms and buildings and promise of things to discover. In fact they could be used to run a historical RPG, as players guidebook, with a separate DMs guide for hidden stuff (npc, clues, etc). Even better with an original used book copy.
posted by stbalbach at 10:58 AM on November 2, 2013

Seriously, that New York Guide just needs 185 years of updating and we'd be good. The inclusion of municipal financial statements is genius. I can only imagine that Tocqueville must have read this before his first visit to New York.
posted by MattD at 1:09 PM on November 2, 2013

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