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

Lots 21 & 21A

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Item 21: Ina Coolbrith’s Songs from the Golden Gate with illustrations by William Keith—the only book of poetry in the Zamorano 80.

21. COOLBRITH, Ina [Donna] (1841-1928). Songs from the Golden Gate.... With Illustrations by William Keith. Boston & New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company; Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1895. vii [5] 159 pp., 4 halftone plates (photographs of William Keith’s paintings). 12mo, original gilt-lettered green cloth, gilt lyre on upper cover, t.e.g. Binding slightly shelf-worn and with a few light stains, mild browning to endpapers, carelessly opened, good to very good copy. Signed by author in pencil on front free endpaper.
First edition. Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 21. LC, California Centennial 282. Norris 853. Notable American Women I, pp. 379-80: “Coolbrith...was made an honorary member of [the Bohemian Club], an honor accorded to no other woman.” Walker, A Literary History of Southern California, pp. 79-82; San Francisco’s Literary Frontier, p. 63: “She refused to write her autobiography, [stating] ‘Were I to write what I know, the book would be too sensational to print; but were I to write what I think proper, it would be too dull to read.’” Zamorano 80 #21. Artist William Keith (1839-1911), “Scottish-born painter, went to California (1859).... He frequently went on outings throughout the state with John Muir and John Burroughs, making observations for his paintings.... In his day he was esteemed as the leading depicter of California’s natural setting” (Hart, Companion to California, p. 219). ($50-100)

21A. COOLBRITH, Ina [Donna]. Songs from the Golden Gate.... Boston & New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company; Cambridge: The Riverside Press, [1895]. vii [5] 159 [1] pp., frontispiece portrait of author, 4 halftone plates (photographs of William Keith’s paintings). 12mo, original gilt-lettered white cloth, gilt lyre on upper cover, t.e.g. A few light stains, otherwise fine. Author’s signed presentation copy to noted California artist Maynard Dixon (Hart, Companion to California, p. 115) and his wife: “To Maynard and Dorothea Dixon, in grateful appreciation of the glowing bit of California you give me wherewith to brighten my exile. Ina Coolbrith. Russian Hill, Aug. 30, 1920.”
Fourth impression, with the lovely photogravure of the author that did not appear in the first impression. ($75-150)

Item 21A. Photogravure of Ina Donna Coolbrith (1841-1928), California’s 19th century Poet Laureate.

Item 21A. Author’s signed presentation copy to noted California artist Maynard Dixon.


The only book of poems included in this august list of Californiana is Ina Coolbrith’s Songs of the Golden Gate. She had a passion for California equaled by few others and this slender volume features the best of her lyric poetry. Pioneer literary historian Ella Sterling Cummins (q.v.) praised her, saying, “There is no other woman writer in California who equals her in beauty and strength and purity of language.” This “mistress of California verse” was a remarkable woman in an age dominated by men. As a child she came overland to the Golden State in 1851 via covered wagon, claiming to have been carried across the Sierra on the saddle of James P. Beckwourth, the famed mountain man. Living in mining camps and then Los Angeles, she received a modest education. Eventually settling in San Francisco, she penetrated the City’s young literary scene and knew just about everyone of consequence. She helped Bret Harte (q.v.) establish the Overland Monthly and associated with the likes of Sam Clemens (q.v.), Charles Warren Stoddard, Ambrose Bierce, and Joaquin Miller (q.v.). In addition, she served as the librarian of the Oakland Free Library, befriending and guiding the education of Jack London and Isadora Duncan. Later, she became the librarian of the Bohemian Club in San Francisco. Ever mindful of her adopted state’s rich literary heritage, she organized a World Congress of Authors at the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition, and for her efforts, the California Legislature named her as the state’s first poet laureate.
Coolbrith consistently submitted her poems to local and national publications. Her first verse appeared in the San Francisco literary weekly, the Californian. The Overland Monthly, Scribner’s, Harper’s, and Century all published her poetry. Her best-known poem, “California,” was published for the first time in her anthology, A Perfect Day (1880) and then in Songs from the Golden Gate. Her associate, Ella Cummins, extolled her verse for its originality, writing, “There is strength and there is beauty in every line that Ina D. Coolbrith writes. Full of local color are Miss Coolbrith’s poems—that one ingredient lacking many of our poets. The meadow-larks sing joyously, the Californian skies over-arch the earth, the rains fall, pictures and metaphors spring always into being from this land of our own.”
Charles F. Lummis, in that wonderful book section of his The Land of Sunshine called “That Which Is Written,” gave a short but flattering review of Songs from the Golden Gate: “It was admirably worth while to bring together in so chaste and charming a volume Ina Coolbrith’s California poems. At this date there is no need to discuss Miss Coolbrith’s rights as a poet, for she won her spurs long ago and beyond cavil; but this massing of her work will certainly add to her fame. Seriatim, it has been enjoyed; collected, it vindicates its claim to permanency. The verse is of a high average; delicate, clear, elevated and of a genuine poetic feeling; and in such occasional bursts as the opening poem ‘California,’ and the one of Rain-in-the-Face, it strikes a note of unusual strength and resonance.”
In 1907, Houghton, Mifflin published a second edition.

——Gary F. Kurutz

Additional sources consulted: Ella Sterling Cummins, The Story of the Files (San Francisco: Co-Operative Printing Co., 1893), pp. 149-51; James D. Hart, A Companion to California (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 94; Review by Charles F. Lummis in The Land of Sunshine 4:2 (January 1896), p. 91.

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