Dorothy Sloan -- Books

Auction 12: The Zamorano 80 Collection of Daniel G. Volkmann Jr.

Lot 44

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Item 44. Hoffman’s Reports of Land Cases: “A very rare book, as well as quite an important one. It was only in January, 1957, that I was able to complete my holdings of The Zamorano Eighty by the purchase of this volume” (Streeter).

44. HOFFMAN, Ogden (1822-1891). Reports of Land Cases Determined in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. June Term, 1853, to June Term, 1858, Inclusive...Volume I [all published]. San Francisco: Numa Hubert, Publisher, 1862. vii [1] [9]-458, 146 pp. Large 8vo, original full law sheep, red and black leather spine labels. Some cover wear, hinges strengthened but back hinge cracked, some soiling and staining (primarily to margins at back of book), typed list of cases tipped in at back, some old manuscript annotations in appendix. Preserved in a chemise and half red morocco slipcase. From Randall House with Ron Randall’s pencil notes on chemise.
First edition. Cowan II, p. 287. Graff 1919. Greenwood 1654. Howell 50, California 588 (citing the 1975 reprint): “The extremely rare first edition contains the decisions of Judge Ogden Hoffman on appeals from the Board of Land Commissioners.... His work has since become a classic of California history.” Howes H569. Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 44. Norris 1652: “Very rare.” Streeter Sale 2874: “Though one would not suspect that this rather thick volume of reports of law cases was at all rare, it is in fact a very rare book, as well as quite an important one. For many years before the publication of The Zamorano Eighty in 1945, I had been assembling a collection of Californiana, but it was only in January, 1957, that I was able to complete my holdings of The Zamorano Eighty by the purchase of this volume.—TWS.” Zamorano 80 #44. ($2,000-4,000)

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Judge Hoffman’s massive legal tome is the consummate early source of information on land ownership in California from the Spanish and Mexican era. The Reports of Land Cases contains the decisions he made on appeals from the Board of Land Commissioners and is packed with valuable historical data on just about every major land grant bestowed by Spanish and Mexican governors. Hoffman presents 110 cases, along with an appendix listing 813 land claims filed with the Land Commission, and his volume of opinion provides an essential starting point for understanding a sad and unjust chapter in American legal history as the Californios struggled to hold on to their ranchos before courts with little knowledge or sympathy for Mexican law and customs.
President Millard Fillmore appointed Hoffman as the first Judge of the U.S. District Court for the northern district of California. The son of the influential senior Ogden Hoffman, he was only twenty-nine at the time of his appointment in 1851. A Harvard law graduate, young Hoffman came to California in May 1850, established his practice in San Francisco, and quickly demonstrated his judicial prowess. In the capacity of appellate judge, he presided over the most important decisions concerning land ownership in California history. Literally, the fate of millions of acres rested with his court. The José Y. Limantour case, located at the end of this volume, records his most important opinion. The Frenchman’s claim of 15,000 acres encompassed much of the city of San Francisco plus the islands in San Francisco Bay. The judge’s opinion detailing Limantour’s fraudulent testimony and forged documents provides a splendid history of that celebrated land grab. Because of the case’s sensationalism, Hoffman’s opinion was published separately as a fifty-eight-page pamphlet in 1858.
The opinions Judge Hoffman wrote concerning the land grants are remarkable for their lucidity and lack of legalese. Oscar Tully Shuck in his History of the Bench and Bar of California held the judge in awe, writing: “In facility of diction, the art of expression, Judge Hoffman has no peer in this State. His reported opinions are models of style as well as rich food for the student of law.” At the time of his death in 1891, he had served forty years on the bench and was acclaimed as one of California’s greatest judges.
In addition to the material on land cases, Hoffman’s publisher, Numa Hubert, added a useful section of short biographies of Spanish and Mexican governors from Gaspar de Portolá to Pío Pico. The distinguished pioneer firm of Towne and Bacon printed the work. Hubert published only one volume. Thomas W. Streeter, in his famous auction catalogue, revealed that he completed his Zamorano 80 collection with the acquisition of Hoffman. Yosemite Collections published a facsimile edition of 500 copies in 1975 with an introduction by California legal historian Kenneth M. Johnson.

——Gary F. Kurutz

Additional sources consulted: Kenneth M. Johnson, Introduction to facsimile edition of Report of Land Cases (N.p.: Yosemite Collections, 1975); Oscar T. Shuck, History of the Bench and Bar of California (Los Angeles: Commercial Printing House, 1901), pp. 472-73.



Item 44. “The consummate early source of information on land ownership in California from the Spanish and Mexican era” (Kurutz).


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