Exhibition | Souvenir Nation: Relics, Keepsakes, and Curios

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on August 14, 2013

From the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History:

Souvenir Nation: Relics, Keepsakes, and Curios
Smithsonian Castle, Washington, D.C., 9 August 2013 — 17 August 2014


Panel from George Washington’s Coach, 17 x 15 inches. President Washington’s state coach featured four side panels representing the seasons; this panel, encased in an oak frame, depicts ‘Spring’ (Smithsonian)

Souvenir Nation: Relics, Keepsakes and Curios features a selection of diminutive and personal objects that Americans have taken, made and saved as historical mementos from the Early Republic up to the present day. Many of the postcards, structural fragments such as a brick from George Washington’s childhood home, consumer goods, locks of hair and other keepsakes on display are part of the earliest Smithsonian collections now in the museum’s Division of Political History. Highlights include a fragment of Plymouth Rock, presidential hair, wood from George Washington’s coffin and pieces from Joan of Arc’s dungeon, the Bastille, and the Berlin Wall.

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From Princeton Architectural Press:

William Bird, Souvenir Nation: Relics, Keepsakes, and Curios from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 2013), 176 pages, ISBN: 978-1616891350, $25.

9781616891350Buried within the collection of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History exists an astonishing group of historical relics from the pre-Revolutionary War era to the present day, many of which have never been on display. Donated to the museum by generations of souvenir collectors, these ordinary objects of extraordinary circumstance all have amazing tales to tell about their roles in American history. Souvenir Nation presents fifty of the museum’s most eccentric items. Objects include a chunk broken off Plymouth Rock; a lock of Andrew Jackson’s hair; a dish towel used as the flag of truce to end the Civil War; the microphones used by FDR for his Fireside Chats; and the chairs that seated Nixon and Kennedy in their 1960 television debate. This fascinating collection of Americana includes an introductory essay on this nation’s passion for souvenir collecting, as well as a brief history and a glimpse behind the scenes of the Smithsonian.

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