Classic New Zealand tourism brochures from the inter-war years are on display outside Special Collections after being unearthed recently.
Largely hidden from view for several decades, these historic tourism treasures were in the extensive ‘vertical file’ ephemera collection that underwent archival processing this year. The material ranges from the steamer age in the late 19th century to the jet age and the onset of mass tourism in the 1960s. The oldest brochure, published by the New Zealand Survey Department in 1890, promoted the ‘New Zealand Grand Tour’ by ‘steamship, rail, coach, horse and foot’ to would-be British visitors facing a 45-day journey just to get here.1
To overcome the distance barrier, the government put great effort into printing high-quality, visually appealing publicity items to lure affluent overseas tourists. This focus on high production values was indicative of New Zealand’s pioneering role in tourism promotion, having established the world’s first government-run tourist board in 1901.
The government-sponsored tourism drive after the First World War helped usher in a golden age of commercial art and outdoor photography, according to the book Selling the dream: the art of early New Zealand tourism.2 It was an unexpected pleasure to discover that many of the treasures depicted in the book, with their arresting artwork, are held in Special Collections.
The colourful vista on the cover of Auckland: the gateway to New Zealand is typical of inter-war tourism art while an opulent 32-page brochure from 1928 was the aesthetic highlight. Produced by the Government Publicity Office, New Zealand resembles a personal photo album with atmospheric photographs of key visitor destinations pasted in alongside descriptive passages.
Another exciting find was the graphic design work of Leonard C. Mitchell on several items. His illustrations adorned everything from posters, print advertisements and magazine covers to postage stamps in mid-20th-century New Zealand, although his name was virtually unknown.3
View these tourism treasures
- Visit the Special Collections display, which includes a case devoted to Leonard C. Mitchell’s work.
Until 24 January (except during the 21 December – 2 January closure), Special Collections, Level G, General Library.
All of the vintage tourism material is housed in several Special Collection locations, including the general ephemera collection.
To arrange access, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ian Brailsford, Special Collections
1 The New Zealand Grand Tour. (1890). Wellington: Department of Lands and Survey, NZ Pamphlets 19-058.
2 Alsop, P., Stewart, G. & Bamford, D. (2012). Selling the dream: the art of early New Zealand tourism. New Zealand: Craig Potton Publishing, pp.21-22.
3 Alsop, P., Reed, A. & Wolfe, R. (2018). Mitchell & Mitchell: a father & son arts legacy. Nelson: Potton & Burton, p.8.