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Collection Overview

Selfe, Norman, 1839-1911
360 Photographs of American Scenery Collected by Norman Selfe on the Spots Represented in 1884
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
3 boxes and 6.25 linear feet
Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Boxes P-000090 to P-000092


Consists of a photograph album containing over 300 photographs of urban and rural locations in North America, Hawaii, and New Zealand, collected by Australian engineer Norman Selfe (1839-1911) during his 1884 tour to inspect engineering and architectural works abroad. The photographs document street architecture in San Francisco, California; redwood logging ventures in Humboldt County, California; as well as locations in the Oregon, Washington, and Utah Territories; the states of Colorado, Nevada, Missouri, Illinois, New York, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts; federal buildings in Washington, D.C.; and cities and natural features in Canada, including British Columbia, Montreal, Toronto, Niagara Falls, and the St. Lawrence River. Includes photographs taken by William Henry Jackson (1843-1942), George Dobson Valentine (1852-1890), George Fiske (1835-1918), I. W. Taber (1830-1912), and others.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

Consists of a photograph album containing over 300 photographs of urban and rural locations in North America, Hawaii, and New Zealand, collected by Australian engineer Norman Selfe (1839-1911) during an 1884 tour. The album comprises a photographic record of Selfe's travels across the North American continent, and to a lesser extent, Hawaii and New Zealand. These travels were a part of Selfe's larger 1884-1885 tour of North America and Europe, which he undertook to inspect and document local engineering and architectural works. Selfe appears to have collected photographs from various photographers and studios in the locations he visited; while photographers or studios responsible for individual photographs are occasionally identified, most images are unattributed. Identifiable photographers include William Henry Jackson (Colorado), George Dobson Valentine (White Terrace, New Zealand), George Fiske (Yosemite Valley), I. W. Taber (San Francisco), William Noliman and Sons (Montreal), Notman Photograph Company (Albany), and Wheeler (Colorado Springs). Though Selfe collected photographs intended to depict locations and scenery as they appeared in 1884, most of the photographs were likely taken between 1880 and 1884, and some were taken as early as 1870.

The album is primarily arranged by location, with page titles and captions handwritten by Selfe. It begins with a group of photographs of New Zealand, taken in Auckland and at White Terrace (Te Tarata), followed by a series depicting Honolulu, Hawaii, including shots of the King's Palace ('Iolani Palace). The rest of the album documents the United States and its territories, and to a lesser degree, Canada. California features prominently; of note are photographs of street architecture, wooden houses (including houses under construction), and hotels in San Francisco and San Rafael, California, including seven large albumen plate images of houses in San Francisco; a series documenting logging and milling operations in the redwood and giant sequoia forests of central and northern California, including Eureka and other locations in Humboldt County; and images of Yosemite Valley, Mariposa Grove, and the Boca Brewery near Lake Tahoe. The California architecture series includes views of the grand palace-style houses of Central Pacific Railroad tycoons Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker. There are also a number of shots documenting the Oregon and Washington Territories and nearby Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. Photographs show urban areas such as Portland, Oregon; Seattle and Tacoma, Washington; and Victoria, British Columbia; as well as locations along the Columbia River Gorge, including Multnomah Falls and the Dalles; mills on the Puget Sound; and the Cascade Range, including Mount Hood, Mount Saint Helens, and Mount Rainier. There are also a significant number of photographs of Colorado, including Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak, the Garden of the Gods, Ute Pass, Manitou Springs, Buena Vista, and Leadville; as well as the Utah Territory, including Salt Lake City. Photographs of Nevada include three staged portraits of an American Indian man, woman, and child from an unidentified tribe. Midwestern locations represented consist of urban Chicago, Illinois, and St. Louis, Missouri. The last third of the album documents the eastern United States and Canada, including New York City, Albany, and Rochester in New York State; the White Mountains of New Hampshire; factories in Waltham, Massachusetts; government buildings in Washington, D.C.; and Montreal, Toronto, Niagara Falls, and the St. Lawrence River in Canada. Other frequent subjects are boats, particularly American steamboats, bridges, and railroads, photographs of which Selfe collected throughout his travels.

The title of the collection reflects the original title Selfe gave to the album. Descriptions of individual album pages also reflect Selfe's original page titles and photograph captions.


The original order of pages as they were bound in the album was maintained; this arrangement is largely geographical.

Collection Creator Biography:

Selfe, Norman, 1839-1911

Norman Selfe (1839-1911) was an English-born Australian engineer, urban planner, naval architect, and inventor. Selfe was born in Teddington, England, into a family of engineers and inventors, including his cousin Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), a photographer known for his contributions to early motion picture projection. In 1855, Selfe moved with his family to Sydney, Australia, where he apprenticed with the firm P. N. Russell & Co. He worked with James Dunlop and Mort's Dock and Engineering Co. in the 1860s and 1870s, and later started his own private practice in 1876. Selfe became known as a versatile engineer well-versed in the design of steamboats, docks, bridges, mills, waterworks, and pumping stations, as well as in refrigeration engineering, hydraulics, oil and gas storage, and railway infrastructure. He was also an education reformer who fought rigorously for the establishment of an independent system of technical education to prepare workers for industrial jobs.

In 1884 and 1885, Selfe undertook a two-year exploration of the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Europe, during which he visited seventy cities and inspected engineering works, notable bridges, and architecture. Following his return to Australia in 1886, Selfe campaigned for various infrastructural improvements in Sydney based on what he saw during his travels. His proposals included a city railway loop linking Sydney's outlying suburbs to the harbour, the redevelopment of the Rocks area, and a harbour bridge to the North Shore. Selfe submitted an early design proposal for the Sydney Harbour Bridge, though his steel cantilever design was not ultimately used. He also designed his own house ("Amesbury"), located in the Ashfield suburb of Sydney, after the large houses he saw in San Francisco, California.

Collection History


Purchase, 2017 (AM 2018-6).


No materials were separated during 2017 processing.

Processing Information

Due to the poor condition of the album's original binding, Ted Stanley, Paper Conservator, removed the album pages from their binding, and then cleaned, mended, and individually sleeved each page in July 2017.

This collection was processed by Kelly Bolding in August 2017. Finding aid written by Kelly Bolding in August 2017, with assistance from Julia English '19.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. For instances beyond Fair Use, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections, nor does it require researchers to obtain its permission for said use. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

360 Photographs of American Scenery Collected by Norman Selfe on the Spots Represented in 1884; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-3184
Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Boxes P-000090 to P-000092