Holmes, Elias Burton

SKU: AUT3162


Elias Burton Holmes (1870-1958) was born in Chicago, the son of a banker, and the grandson of a wealthy builder and importer of French wines and gourmet foods. He bought his first camera at thirteen, and soon became a serious camera enthusiast, setting up his own darkroom facilities and joining the Chicago Camera Club. Autograph Card Writing Signed, n.d. -  4 x 2 written in blk ink with rich browning seen overall, fine condition. 

In 1892 Burton traveled to Japan, there meeting (and becoming a junior associate of) John L. Stoddard, the foremost traveler/lecturer of the late 19th century. Shortly after his return, the Panic of 1893 ruined his father financially, and Burton had to find work. He was unsuccessful as a camera salesman, but a stereopticon lecture of his pictures from Japan raised a surprising amount of money. Holmes struggled along these lines for four years, until Stoddard retired, and arranged for Holmes to fill his engagements for the 1897-8 season. Within a few years Holmes' "Travelogues" had become part of American life.

Holmes thought of himself as a performer, rather than a teacher or lecturer; and perform he did, sometimes six shows a week, sometimes each of the six in a different city. A Burton Holmes roadshow was reported to have been a fascinating experience. His general practice was to travel abroad in the summers, making movies and gathering material for his lectures; in the winter he would go on tour. Always, Holmes stood on the stage in formal dress. Regular stops included Carnegie Hall in New York, Symphony Hall in Boston, and Orchestra Hall in Chicago. Although he "retired" from the stage in 1949, he continued to present shows until health problems forced him to stop, aged 81. By this point he had delivered more than 8000 lectures.

The Burton Holmes Lectures, based on the slides and his narrations for them, were reorganized into a series of books, originally published in 1901 in ten volumes. In following years he added more volumes, and they remained in print under the name The Burton Holmes Travelogues. More than 40,000 copies of these sets were reason why they can still be found in used-book stores across the nation. Our grandparents bought them for the coffee-table, as geography books for the children, and as the romantic encyclopedia of remote places, all in one package. In recent years they have been reprinted (series title: The World 100 Years Ago) with some outside commentary. The reprints are expensive and hard to find new, but there are plenty of used or remaindered copies for sale at low prices.

His last book, his autobiography The World Is Mine, was published in 1953 by Murray & Gee, of Culver City, California. Finally we were able to see pictures of Nirvana, his incredible apartment in New York City. Besides photographs of Nirvana, this book has many pictures from early, middle, and late phases of his life; but the actual narrative only covers the period up the end of the first World War. Nevertheless, it was the only authoritative source on the inner workings of Holmes Travelogues business until the publication of Thayer Soule's On the Road with Travelogues. Soule was Holmes' right-hand man from 1935 until Holmes retired in 1951, and he went on to become a famous travel filmmaker and lecturer in his own right.