Princeton Architectural Press
By William L. Bird, Jr.
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Buried 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 objects—from a chunk broken off
Plymouth Rock to the magnifying glass used to examine
the infamous hanging chads of the 2000 presidential
election. Smithsonian curator William L. Bird, Jr.,
regales us with the story of each artifact’s origins and
the quirks of fate that brought it to the Smithsonian.
Strikingly photographed, these curious objects form
a uniquely American narrative: a cabinet of curiosities
representing our nation’s most fascinating individuals,
both celebrated and obscure, and the keepsakes
they left behind.
• Objects include 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
• Many of the objects have never been exhibited
• An accompanying exhibition opens in Washington,
D.C.’s Smithsonian Castle in fall 2013
• Includes an introductory essay on America’s passion
for souvenir collecting, as well as a brief history and
a glimpse behind the scenes of the Smithsonian
• William L. Bird Jr., a Washington, D.C.–based curator
at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of
American History, is the author of the PAPress books
Paint by Number, Holidays on Display, and America’s
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