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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Book: Making The Most of Shade

This summer I really struggled with my garden. In the Spring it started off with a boom! I was afraid I had too many plants in my border but as summer waned on I realized I had far less afternoon sun then the year before. My plants chugged along offering a few blooms but none of my high summer plants got as big and lush as I hoped. In late August they received a significant trampling from the insulation guys and I gave up.

I think I need help. I’ve come to the realization that I won’t have the cottage garden of my dreams overflowing with peonies, echinacea and hollyhocks. The learning curve for this house and garden is steep which at the moment is terribly frustrating. Can’t something just grow and be beautiful so I can move onto something else to pour my money into?

I picked up Making the Most of Shade (Rodale), by Larry Hodgson, in hopes of gaining more insight. For me it’s been hard to envision a shady border on an urban size lot. When I think of shade; I imagine woods and wetlands. I only have one tree but my corner is canopied in shade by my neighbor’s trees.

The book focuses on perennials offering a two page discussion on each plant’s profile, growing tips, problems and solutions, top performing varieties and garden notes. Under Aruncus ‘Goat’s Beard’ Larry offers this note:

One of nicest hedges I’ve ever seen was composed not of shrubs but of goat’s beard planted in row in front of a farmhouse. The hedge was full and as dense as any shrub could be and coiffed with beautiful feathery white blooms. When I stopped to take a picture, the owner came out and we talked a bit. It turned out the owner had unsuccessfully tried twice to grow a “traditional” hedge, once of arborvitae and the other time of lilacs, but snow shoved onto the plants from a passing snowplow kept tearing off branches, and they never filled in properly. With goat’s beard, though, the entire hedge sprouts anew from underground each spring, eliminating damage from the snowplow.

Sounds like a familiar problem? I have the same issue in my front garden bed. I’ve tried endless summer hydrangeas and then boxwoods which I plan on yanking next Spring to move to containers because of the snowplows and potential dog pee problem. I’m not sure goat’s beard will be the right fit but I think using a perennial would offer me the advantage of it dying back in the winter.

A beautiful “hedge” of goat’s beard found on Macgarden’s blog.

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