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

Lot 28

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Item 28. Davis’s History of Political Conventions in California—“Despite the chafing dryness of the text, the volume covers the important political issues of the formative period of state and local government and documents the evolution of a myriad of political parties” (Kurutz).

28. DAVIS, Winfield J. (1851-1909). History of Political Conventions in California, 1849-1892. Sacramento: Publications of the California State Library No. 1, 1893. [6] 711 pp., tipped-in errata slip at p. [1]. 8vo, original brown cloth, spine gilt-lettered. Slight outer wear and front free endpaper with light offsetting from the bookplate of Monsignor Joseph M. Gleason, but generally fine. California State Library duplicate, with their ink-stamped and penciled call number on title verso, and their ink compliments stamp on lower free endpaper. See Talbot, Historic California in Book Plates, p. 99, where Monsignor Gleason’s bookplate is illustrated.
First edition. Cowan I, p. 64. Cowan II, p. 161. Graff 1024. Holliday 272. Howell 50, California 408. Howes D142. Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 28. Rocq 16816. Streeter Sale 3015. Zamorano 80 #28 (Leslie E. Bliss): “It is the authority for its period and might well be brought down to date.” ($150-250)


When published in February 1893, newspapers around California hailed Davis’s book as the “best work of political reference ever published in the state.” Another declared it the first of its kind published anywhere in America. Based on painstaking research, this encyclopedia of state politics starts with the first political mass meeting in California, the Democratic Convention held in San Francisco on October 25, 1849, and concludes with the state convention of July 26, 1892.
Rather than employing a narrative style, Davis chose instead to lay out the bare facts as if he was a recording secretary or court reporter at each meeting. Little emotion or editorializing crept into his text, and he liberally reproduced accounts from the major newspapers. It is loaded with “whereas” and “therefore be it resolved” statements. He included names of participants, platforms, texts of resolutions, and election results. Despite the chafing dryness of the text, the volume covers the important political issues of the formative period of state and local government and documents the evolution of a myriad of political parties including Democratic, Republican, Whig, Workingman, Free Soil, and Prohibition. The text provides valuable information on Californian reactions to such hot-button national issues as slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the anti-Chinese movement, immigration law, suffrage, and Prohibition. To this documentation on political meetings, Davis added biographical sketches of the American period governors from Peter H. Burnett to Henry Harrison Markham and a register of state officers. The register listed elected officials, judges, state printers, railroad commissioners, and wardens with their dates of office. Ever conscientious, Davis compiled a detailed index ensuring as one newspaper put it that “any name or any fact can be at once found.”
The California State Library sold the volume in two binding states: full leather at $4.00 a copy, and cloth at $3.50. According to the papers, the Library published only a limited number, just enough to recover its costs. The title page indicates that it was Publication Number 1 of the Library. Apparently the Library’s trustees planned a series on California and Pacific Coast history with this compendium leading the way. The Davis book, however, was the first and last.
Davis brought impressive credentials to this study. No one could match his knowledge of the political landscape. For many years he served as the official court reporter of the Sixth District Court; he won election as an assemblyman from Sacramento, played a central role in state Republican Party politics, and for a period of time worked as Yuba County Statistician. In addition, Davis was the historian of the Sacramento Society of California Pioneers, an energetic collector of Californiana, and a compiler of raw data on historical topics. Over a thirty-year span, he created an incredible historical index of thousands of references derived from newspaper articles and other documents which he used for his many publications. A writer of some talent, he founded the Sacramento Valley Agriculturalist, and edited Themis, a Sacramento literary magazine, and the Marysville Appeal and Democrat.

——Gary F. Kurutz

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