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

Lots 10 & 10A

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Item 10. Brown’s Reminiscences and Incidents, of “The Early Days” of San Francisco—“Every search for the true picture of San Francisco’s beginnings as a city leads finally to John Henry Brown’s ‘Early Days” (Douglas Sloane Watson).

10. BROWN, John H[enry] (1811-1905). Reminiscences and Incidents, of “The Early Days” of San Francisco.... Actual Experience of an Eye-Witness, from 1845 to 1850. San Francisco: Mission Journal Publishing Co., [1886]. [106] pp., foldout engraved untitled plan of San Francisco (19.5 x 27 cm; 7-5/8 x 10-5/8 inches). 8vo, original blindstamped gilt-lettered mustard cloth. A bit of mild staining and light wear to binding, endpapers browned, one short clean tear to one preliminary leaf, one text leaf with 2.5-cm tear to blank margin (no loss), small chip to lower pastedown, generally very good to fine. This copy contains the pencil notes of Warren R. Howell on rear pastedown (“$300.00 iytxx [cost code], Zamorano 80”).
First edition. Cowan I, p. 26. Cowan II, p. 77. Graff 429. Holliday 136. Howell 50, California 331. Howes B853. Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 10. Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 88a. Mintz, The Trail 60. Rocq 8429. Streeter Sale 2999. Wheat, Books of the California Gold Rush 23. Zamorano 80 #10. ($400-800)

10A. BROWN, John H[enry]. Reminiscences and Incidents, of the Early Days of San Francisco.... San Francisco: The Grabhorn Press, 1933. [12] 138 [5] pp., title and text illustrations. 8vo, original natural linen over marbled boards, printed paper labels on spine and upper cover. Other than light foxing to endpapers, very fine, with publisher’s announcement (One More Book) laid in.
Limited edition (500 copies), edited by Douglas Sloane Watson, added introduction and Reader’s Guide. Grabhorn (1915-1940) #190. Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 88a. Rocq 8430. ($50-100)


Douglas Sloane Watson, in the Grabhorn Press edition, praised Brown’s Reminiscences, writing: “Every search for the true picture of San Francisco’s beginnings as a city leads finally to John Henry Brown’s ‘Early Days.’” Despite the fact that the colorful author put down these recollections four decades after the events described, they provided an invaluable narrative of an incredible, rough-and-tumble era. According to Bancroft, Brown was one of those men who claimed “to know more than any other live man” about the early days, and to a large degree, this was no idle boast. He loaded his narrative with more names per paragraph than a Bancroft footnote, and it seemed that at one time or another, he encountered just about every famous personality in California during the years 1845-1850.
This raconteur began his recollection describing life as a fur trapper, the overland trek to California, visiting Yerba Buena for the first time, meeting Captain Sutter, and working at the fort as overseer of the cookhouse and butcher shop. Brown returned to Yerba Buena where he became a bartender, and on November 1, 1846, opened his own establishment, Brown’s Hotel. This gave him a unique perspective, and accordingly, the innkeeper witnessed virtually every facet of the American takeover of California as it swirled around his village. Brown himself served as a citizen-soldier. His hotel became a versatile social center. One Sunday morning in June 1847, for example, he related: “I do not suppose another instance could be cited, where under the same roof there was preaching, drinking, card-playing and billiards all going on at the same time and hour.”

With the discovery of gold, he took over running the City Hotel, and with the money he made helped build the popular Parker House. At the helm of these two establishments, Brown stood at the center of a wild, rip-roaring town now called San Francisco. Consequently, his reminiscences are among the best and most compelling pictures of the port city during those golden years of 1848-1849. As with so many other establishments, that scourge of San Francisco, fire, destroyed the Parker House in December 1849. In addition to his own business interests, Brown told of the comings and goings of leading personalities ranging from Sam Brannan to William Leidesdorff, development of all kinds of businesses, and major events including the arrival of women. To his book, Brown added a map of town lots in San Francisco supported with a narrative text.
While bibliographer Robert Cowan recognized the value of Brown’s retelling of the “early days,” he did not much appreciate the work of the Mission Journal Publishing Company, noting that it “was poorly printed and exhibits but little attempt at proof-reading.” Brown also raised Cowan’s eyebrows with the phonetic spelling of proper names. For example, Ide became Hyde, Semple became Sample, and the gambling saloon Eldorado became the Aldarado. Such howlers caused the demure Cowan to write, “his book presents probably the most extraordinary mass of blunders to be found in print.”
Because of the importance and rarity of the title, the Grabhorn Press published an edition of five hundred copies in its “Rare Americana Series.” The press also produced a “special copy” of which twenty-five were printed. Each contained an early document, extra illustrations, and came bound in full morocco. Biobooks of Oakland also produced a new edition in its California Centennial Edition series.

——Gary F. Kurutz

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