Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Travelogues of Burton Holmes

There is many an armchair traveler amongst you. I admit to it. I rather travel by comfy chair than most any other way, and cold winter days are heaven sent for exploring the world.

Born in 1870, Mr. Burton Holmes was the greatest traveler of his time. A Chicago lad, Burton caught the travel bug at 13 joining his parents on a trip to Europe. The bug never left. He dropped out of school at 16 intent on making travel his life's work.

In 1883 he purchased his first camera, learning how to develop his own glass plates. In 1886 his grandmother included him on a mini grand tour through England, Scotland, France and Germany. Four years later he returned with his Kodak knowing he had discovered his life's work.

To finance his trips he gave travel lectures anywhere that would have him. He would show slides of his travels and along with stories and tales of the backstory behind each photo. It took a while, but he eventually became quiet successful in his venture, continuing until the early 1950's.

His travels led him to all corners. In many places, if he was not the first white man who wasn't a missionary, he was the first to show up with a camera. His timing was impeccable. He was everywhere, at the right time. Holmes's early photography, later news reels and film before the ravages of the Great War, again before WW2 showed the beginning and end of eras.

As a pup I began collecting the printed travelogues of Burton Holmes. First published in 1910 the photos are small and black and white. I'm still missing several volumes, but I enjoy the hunt.

Later he had many of the glass plates colored for his lectures. The prints are exquisite.

WW1 era France

Paris 1927

Delhi 1912

If you are traveler, an armchair traveler, a historian, or just a fan of old photos check your local library, Alibris, EBAY or favorite second hand book store for a copy of a recent reprint, Burton Holmes Travelogues, edited by Genoa Caldwell, published by Taschen, which include many of the hand tinted plates.

You'll be glad you did.



Karena said...


Burton Holmes works sound amazing from what you have shown. His tales of travel must be fascinating!! Thank you!

Art by Karena

Jg. for FatScribe said...

outstanding. a friend of mine is in the Traveler's Century Club (he's a filmmaker who travels internationally quite a bit, and as a child he was traveling the globe with his father). i will keep my open for these travelogues.

Jg. for FatScribe said...

woops! (er, duh!) meant to say "eyes" open. and, JIC, the Travelers' Century Club requires over 100 countries on your passport ... whew! the air is now clear. somewhat.

Martha said...

What an interesting life he must have lived and what beautiful photography.

Lou said...

Sounds amazing and the photos are stunning. I will investigate, thanks for the tip.

A friend of mine wrote an interesting book about his time in business in China (he lives there still.) China Cuckoo by Mark Kitto. If you get the chance I found it very interesting.

James said...

If you keep posting (and we all hope you do) I may become an educated man yet. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

My Grandparents left me a 12 vol. set (with 1 supplement vol) of Burton Holmes Travelogues bound in leather with some color photos. Dated 1908/1910. They are in excellent condition! I am taking photos of them to be posted on flicker in the near future. If anyone is interested in them please email me at

Frank said...

Photos of my collection of Burton Holmes Travelogues are now on flicker. A 10 vol. set with 1 supplement. All in excellent condition. Copyright 1908/1910

Frank said...

Oops! Make that a 12 vol. set with 1 supplement vol.