A peek into our collections, one object at a time

Vintage Zoo Guidebook

May 29, 2012
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Vintage Zoo Guidebook, 1895
Smithsonian Institution Libraries

Vintage Zoo Guidebook, 1895 

What better way to enjoy a warm spring day than a trip to the local zoo? This week’s Smithsonian Snapshot highlights the Smithsonian Institution Libraries collection of vintage zoo guidebooks and pamphlets from around the world. 

The collection from the National Zoological Park branch of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries has 1,000 brochures, guidebooks, maps, drawings and photographs from 30 states and 40 countries. 

In addition to serving as educational facilities, zoos have also doubled as recreation areas and amusement parks as illustrated on the front cover of this 1895 guidebook from the Belle Vue Zoological Gardens in England. Animal rides, sporting events and even ballroom dancing were held on zoo grounds in an era when visiting a zoo often meant a daylong trip outside of the city limits. 

Many of the items in this collection were collected by former directors and staff from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. The promotional nature of the publications also demonstrates the history of graphic design, illustration and advertising used by public and private institutions throughout the years. 

This item is one of 137 million artifacts, works of art and specimens in the Smithsonian’s collection. It is not on display. For more information about these vintage zoo publications, visit the Smithsonian Institution Libraries “Zoos: A Historical Perspective,” online exhibition website. 

To learn more about how the Smithsonian demonstrates leadership in animal care, science, education and sustainability, visit the National Zoo’s website.