My Favorite Vintage New England Books

Piles of books and magazines surround me covering all available surfaces of my desk. The scene: embarrassing. I’ll admit I’ve developed an unhealthy obsession buying books on preservation, decorating and design. I do have an excuse for the mess; my books are awaiting a home on the bookshelves Greg promised to build me in the little room. The book hoarding, no.

Of all the books I’ve collected this year—new and old—three published between 1940-1972 by Samuel Chamberlain and his wife Narcissa Chamberlains were my absolute favorite. The books have offered me inspiration for my home and inspiration for photographs I’ve taken for this blog.

Samuel Chamberlain was an artist, writer, photographer, printmaker who published over eighty books on design. He began his career as an architect and a renowned etcher and moved to Marblehead in 1934 where his focus shifted to photography. A series of photo books were published as part of “American Landmark” series including Old Marblehead: A Camera Impression and Ever New England. In 1972, Chamberlain and his wife published, The Chamberlain Selection of New England Room 1639-1863 depicting historic interiors throughout New England. Below a look inside each of these books.

Old Marblehead: A Camera Impression

Old Marblehead: A Camera Impression depicts scenes of winter, summer and fall in early 1940’s in Marblehead. Chamberlain writes “closely built on its ledges of rocks, and amazingly well-preserved despite two fires, Marblehead still presents to the visitor the picture of an ancient New England town”. This statement was true in 1940 and still is today. Marblehead is picturesque and one of the most beautiful preserved historic towns in New England. Chamberlain’s photographs offer unique perspectives on buildings I walk past everyday. I really enjoyed viewing the town through another set of eyes—a book I’ll treasure for years to come.

Ever New England

Ever New England is similar to Old Marblehead: A Camera Impression but covers scenes from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Images of boat yards, historic home and fields offer a look into rural life in the early forties. Quiet images captivate me. In a modern world full of photoshop photography Chamberlain offers a different perspective. The photographs are honest, slow, filled with an energy of curiosity in the day-to-day.

The Chamberlain Selection of New England Rooms, 1639-1863

The Chamberlain Selection of New England Rooms, 1639-1863 showcases historic interiors from all over New England. The photos offered me inspiration for how to organize furniture in my house as well as what type of pieces the rooms could have been furnished with. Beautiful photographs of field-paneled mantels and gorgeous examples of wing chairs and tables captivated me.

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  1. Lol, yes indeed he was a busy man.

    I don’t have that book but thanks for the tip.

    I’m not sure what type of camera he used but if I found out I will definitely share!


  2. Katy, Do you have “British Bouquet An Epicurean Tour of Britian” by Chamberlain, Published by Gourmet in 1963 with recipes edited and adapted by Narcissa G. Chamberlain. The man must have never slept. His book production, photography and writing and art work is quite prodigious. This one is a combo of his drypoints and photos. Do you have any idea of what make camera Chamberlain used?


  3. Katy, maybe you are already aware, but Samuel Chamberlain also wrote a wonderful book called “Clementine in the Kitchen.” It’s about the “bonne femme” his family brought back from France to cook for them in the United States. The book was originally a series of columns in Gourmet in the 1940s, I think. It’s a delight–stories about eating in France, anecdotes about a Frenchwoman adjusting to American markets, and recipes! Since you are a cook, I thought you might enjoy it. I had no idea he and his wife and published these other interesting books.


  4. Thanks Katy for sharing these book ideas. My copy of Ever New England is on the way…and the Marblehead book should ship any day. So soon after a major clearing of my bookshelves, you are leading me astray!


  5. Katy — I have another book you may want to add to your collection — Rufus Porter: Yankee Pioneer by Jean Lipman. If you don’t know his name, you would probably recognize his works as a mural landscape artist in many New England homes. I don’t think the book is in print anymore — my copy is second hand from amazon… Although not a decorating book, if you enjoy New England fiction, I would also recommend any books by Howard Frank Mosher, one of my favorite authors.


  6. I have that New England Rooms book! I got it at the annual Library book sale in Falmouth, MA, love it!