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|29. [DELANO, Alonzo (1802?-1874)].
Old Block’s Sketch-Book; or, Tales of California Life. Illustrated
with Numerous Elegant Designs, by Nahl, the Cruikshank of California.
Sacramento: James Anthony & Co., 1856.  iii  78 [2, conclusion,
verso blank] [2, ad for Union Printing, verso blank] pp., printed in
double column, 15 wood-engraved plates (included in pagination) engraved
by Thomas Armstrong after original artwork by Charles Nahl. 8vo, original
light tan pictorial wrapper, sewn. Lower wrapper and paper spine absent.
Upper wrapper creased, stained, old tear (12 cm) with tape repair on
verso (no loss of image), moderate edge wear along wrapper, interior fine
except for occasional mild foxing. With the gentle attention of a skilled
conservator, the wrapper with the comical Nahl illustration could be
vastly improved. Very rare, especially in the wrappers. The Jennie
Crocker Henderson copy, sold from John Howell–Books Catalogue 50.
First edition. Braislin 580. Cowan I, p. 65: “The...woodcut illustrations are in the best and most vigorous of that style so thoroughly characteristic of this famous pioneer artist. They form a most happy accompaniment for the word sketches of Delano, who was the first California humorist to record the burlesque side of the many strange scenes he saw presented during the flush times.” Cowan II, p. 163. Graff 1043. Greenwood 676. Hamilton, Early American Book Illustrators and Wood Engravers 1112 & vol. 1, pp. 190-91: “Armstrong, an English-born engraver, was the guiding spirit of the Illustrated News, the first illustrated paper of the Pacific Coast.” Holliday 284. Howell 50, California 412. Howes D231. Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 29. Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 180a. Norris 950. Streeter Sale 2800. Walker, San Francisco’s Literary Frontier, pp. 35-40. Wheat, Books of the California Gold Rush 57n. Zamorano 80 #29 (Leslie E. Bliss): “The illustrator collaborated with ‘Old Block’ in other volumes but this particular selection is perhaps the happiest of their association.” ($3,000-6,000)
Item 29A. Pen-Knife Sketches; or, Chips of the Old Block—Another classic of California humor that makes a great companion piece to Old Block’s Sketch-Book.
|29A. [DELANO, Alonzo]. Pen-Knife
Sketches; or, Chips of the Old Block. A Series of Illustrated Letters,
Written by One of California’s Pioneer Miners, and Dedicated to That
Class of Her Citizens by the Author. Sacramento: Union Office,
1853. 112 pp., 24 wood-engraved plates (included in
pagination) by Charles Nahl, text vignettes. 8vo, modern half dark
red morocco over simulated marbled boards. Title page and last leaf
foxed, otherwise a fine copy. From John Howell–Books, with their typewritten
description laid in.
First edition of another classic of California humor. Braislin 581: “A very rare early work illustrating the life of a California Miner.” Cowan I, p. 65. Cowan II, p. 163. Greenwood 383. Hamilton, Early American Book Illustrators and Wood Engravers 1110: “These sketches had appeared in various public journals but are here first collected in book form.... [The] 24 full-page illustrations and 2 vignettes by Nahl [are] spirited sketches depicting the life of California in the gold rush era.” Howell 50, California 1517. Howes D232. Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 181a. Rocq 6047. This title is not in the Zamorano 80 bibliography, but it makes a great companion piece to Old Block’s Sketch-Book; or, Tales of California Life (see preceding). Of the two titles, Pen-Knife Sketches is more rare. ($1,500-3,000)
29B. DELANO, Alonzo. Pen-Knife Sketches; or, Chips of the Old
Block.... San Francisco: Grabhorn Press, 1934. xxi  79  pp.,
colored chapter heading illustrations and a few full-page illustrations
after Nahl’s original plates. Large thin 8vo, original tan cloth over
teal boards, printed paper spine label, illustrated paper label on
upper cover (after illustration by Nahl). Very fine.
Alonzo Delano, affectionately known as “Old Block,” possessed that
wonderful ability to record what he saw with pathos, laughter, irony,
and realism. Delano was the miner’s spokesman, their champion. Consequently,
everyone loved this long-nosed wit. His biographer, G. Ezra Dane, wrote
that Delano “was the first truly Californian man of letters, and no
one has described or interpreted the human elements of the Gold Rush
so sympathetically as he.” Dane characterized his literary style as
“a bit rustic, but flowing, chuckling and lucid as a Sierra stream.”
This word painter of California life, along with George Horatio Derby
(a.k.a. John Phoenix), established a unique brand of Western humor based
on the strange and wonderful scenes they saw.
——Gary F. Kurutz
Additional sources consulted: G. Ezra Dane, Foreword to Alonzo Delano’s Pen-Knife Sketches (San Francisco: The Grabhorn Press, 1934); Irving McKee, introduction to Alonzo Delano’s California Correspondence (Sacramento: Sacramento Book Collectors Club, 1952).
Item 29. “Delano had the good fortune of having Charles Christian Nahl, `the Cruikshank of California’ and arguably the finest artist of the Gold Rush, provide the illustrations for...Old Block’s Sketch-Book (Kurutz).
Item 29A. Charles Nahl’s engraving of the “A Live Woman at the Mines” in Delano’s Pen-Knife Sketches.
Plate from Item 29A.