Dorothy Sloan -- Books


Superlative Photographs by Yosemite & the High Sierras in 1870

“One of the greatest classics of early Californian mountain travel”—Neate

250.     [LE CONTE, Joseph]. A Journal of Ramblings through the High Sierras of California by the “University Excursion Party.” San Francisco: Francis & Valentine, Commercial Printing House, 517 Clay Street, 1875. 103 [1, blank] pp., text printed within ruled borders, 9 mounted albumen prints by John James Reilly (uncredited) within red line borders, captions beneath printed in red. 8vo (24 x 14 cm), original blue gilt-lettered cloth, blind-stamped ruling on covers (professionally re-cased). Binding darkened, corners renewed, light shelf wear, short tear to blank outer margin of frontispiece (no loss), a few ink stains (leaf 51/52). Several manuscript corrections in ink. The photographs are unusually fine, with excellent contrast. Contemporary pencil ownership inscription of C[harles] Palache, dated December 20, 1889, and pencil price of ten cents. Palache (1869-1954) was an eminent student of mineralogy and crystallography. After graduating from the University of California at Berkeley with a Ph.D. in 1894, he eventually moved to Harvard, where he spent the remainder of his career. In addition to his teaching and research duties, he was instrumental in building Harvard’s Mineralogical Museum into one of the most outstanding collections of this type in the world. In 1889, Palache went by horseback to the Sierras with Le Conte.

Albumen prints:

Phelps. Bolton. Perkins. Prof. Le Conte. Soulé Linderman. Cobb. Stone. Hawkins. Pomeroy. Great Yosemite Fall. 2,634 Feet High. 10.5 x 8 cm. Frontispiece.

The Grizzly Giant. 110 Feet in Circumference, 33 Feet in Diameter. 10.5 x 8 cm. Facing p. 27.

The High Sierras, From Glacier Point. Nevada Fall, 700 Feet High. Vernal Fall, 350 Feet High. 10.5 x 8 cm. Facing p. 33.

The Gates of the Valley. From Inspiration Point. El Capitan, 3300 Feet High. The Three Graces. Bridal Veil Fall. 10.5 x 8 cm. Facing p. 41.

Bridal Veil Fall. 940 Feet High. 10.5 x 8 cm. Facing p. 47.

The Heart of the Sierras. Lake Tenaya. 10.5 x 8 cm. Facing p. 53.

Day-Dawn in Yosemite. The Merced River. 10.5 x 8 cm. Facing p. 77.

Linderman, Dolly Ann Scabgrider. Cobb, Snipper-Snapper. Bolton, Old Shoveler. North Dome, 3,725 Feet High. South (Half) Dome, 6,000 Feet High. 10.5 x 8 cm. Facing p. 91. Three riders are identified and their horses named.

Montgomery St., San Francisco. Where Our Trip Ended. 10.2 x 8.5 cm. Facing p. 103.

     First edition. Cowan I, p. 137 (stating that only 20 copies were printed, an assertion absent in his second edition). Cowan II, p. 387. Currey & Kruska 230. Farquhar, Yosemite 14a: “The original edition was printed for the members of the party, ten in number. Professor Le Conte’s son, Joseph N. Le Conte, tells me that he thinks twelve copies were made for each of them…. Nothing can quite equal the charm of the original thin blue volume with its photographs.” Howes L175. Kurutz, California Books Illustrated with Original Photographs 1856-1890 #27. Neate, Mountaineering and Its Literature 451: “The book is regarded as one of the greatest classics of early Californian mountain travel.” Norris 2040.

     Scientist and savant Le Conte (1823-1901) was one of the first important scholars of geology and natural history in California. This 1870 excursion was actually something of a teaching trip. The party spent some time with John Muir, whose encounter with Le Conte on this trip provided an interesting outlet for Muir’s theory of the glacial origin of Yosemite, which Le Conte mentions several times in this work. Le Conte and Muir became fast friends after this encounter and subsequently worked together on many important scientific investigations. Le Conte, a founding member of the Sierra Club, often returned to Yosemite to conduct research and was an ardent promoter of its preservation. Appropriately, he died in Yosemite Valley. The Le Conte Memorial Lodge in Yosemite was erected by the Sierra Club in his honor.

     Eight of these marvelous photographs depict natural scenery (often including members of the excursion party). The last, however, shows Montgomery Street in San Francisco and includes an exterior view of Bradley & Rulofson’s photographic studio. All of the photographs are by John James Reilly (Peter E. Palmquist, editor, J.J. Reilly: A Stereoscopic Odyssey 1838-1894, Yuba City, California: Community Memorial Museum, 1989, pp. 11-12), although Le Conte did not credit Reilly in the book (a common practice at the time). Somewhat dismissively, Le Conte recounts the taking of the frontispiece photograph:

We here had our party photographed in costume. The photographer is none of the best; but we hope the picture will be a pleasure to our friends in Oakland…. As the most venerable of the party, my position was in the middle, and my bald head, glistening in the sunshine, was supposed to give dignity to the group…. Far in the background was the granite wall of Yosemite, and the wavy white waters of the falls. The result is seen in the frontispiece.

     Reilly published two other works on Yosemite that included photographs (see Currey & Kruska 281 and 282). In entry 281 they state: “John James Reilly (1838-1894) moved from Niagara Falls, New York to California in 1870. He established the first photographic studio in Yosemite Valley which he operated seasonably from 1870 to 1876. Reilly was one of the better landscape photographers of the 1870s. He published an extensive series of beautiful views of Yosemite based more on the romantic style of Muybridge than the austere classicism of Watkins.” Reilly’s “stereographs of Yosemite were considered so technically excellent that they quickly found a ready market with major stereograph publishers around the world. He was especially praised for the verisimilitude of his cloud effects in landscape photography” (Palmquist, p. 5). In July and August, 1871, Reilly took a three-week excursion in the high Sierra east of Yosemite Valley with John Muir and John Dennis (Palmquist, pp. 13-14). In a letter dated August 13, 1871, written by Muir to Mrs. Ezra S. Carr, he mentions that he assisted Reilly in making photographs in Yosemite.

     In July, 1878, beleaguered by a glutted market for stereoscopic views and widespread pirating of his images, Reilly left Yosemite and purchased a portrait studio in Marysville. Here he pursued this more prosaic trade while continuing to market his backlog of stereo views and making occasional photographic excursions, such as one to the Monterey peninsula. In 1886, possibly suffering from depression, Reilly abandoned his second wife and sold his business and master set of stereo negatives to Enno Neseman, beginning a downhill slide that ended with his 1894 suicide in San Francisco (Palmquist, pp. 3-8, 24).