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

Lots 29, 29A & 29B

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Item 29. Delano’s Old Block’s Sketch-Book illustrated by Charles Nahl—“Both author and illustrator are characteristically Californian, and few volumes have a truer flavor of the Mother Lode” (Bliss).


Item 29. Original pictorial wrappers by Charles Nahl.

29. [DELANO, Alonzo (1802?-1874)]. Old Block’s Sketch-Book; or, Tales of California Life. Illustrated with Numerous Elegant Designs, by Nahl, the Cruikshank of California. Sacramento: James Anthony & Co., 1856. [2] iii [1] 78 [2, conclusion, verso blank] [2, ad for Union Printing, verso blank] pp., printed in double column, 15 wood-engraved plates (included in pagination) engraved by Thomas Armstrong after original artwork by Charles Nahl. 8vo, original light tan pictorial wrapper, sewn. Lower wrapper and paper spine absent. Upper wrapper creased, stained, old tear (12 cm) with tape repair on verso (no loss of image), moderate edge wear along wrapper, interior fine except for occasional mild foxing. With the gentle attention of a skilled conservator, the wrapper with the comical Nahl illustration could be vastly improved. Very rare, especially in the wrappers. The Jennie Crocker Henderson copy, sold from John Howell–Books Catalogue 50.
First edition. Braislin 580. Cowan I, p. 65: “The...woodcut illustrations are in the best and most vigorous of that style so thoroughly characteristic of this famous pioneer artist. They form a most happy accompaniment for the word sketches of Delano, who was the first California humorist to record the burlesque side of the many strange scenes he saw presented during the flush times.” Cowan II, p. 163. Graff 1043. Greenwood 676. Hamilton, Early American Book Illustrators and Wood Engravers 1112 & vol. 1, pp. 190-91: “Armstrong, an English-born engraver, was the guiding spirit of the Illustrated News, the first illustrated paper of the Pacific Coast.” Holliday 284. Howell 50, California 412. Howes D231. Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 29. Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 180a. Norris 950. Streeter Sale 2800. Walker, San Francisco’s Literary Frontier, pp. 35-40. Wheat, Books of the California Gold Rush 57n. Zamorano 80 #29 (Leslie E. Bliss): “The illustrator collaborated with ‘Old Block’ in other volumes but this particular selection is perhaps the happiest of their association.” ($3,000-6,000)


Item 29A. Pen-Knife Sketches; or, Chips of the Old Block—Another classic of California humor that makes a great companion piece to Old Block’s Sketch-Book.

29A. [DELANO, Alonzo]. Pen-Knife Sketches; or, Chips of the Old Block. A Series of Illustrated Letters, Written by One of California’s Pioneer Miners, and Dedicated to That Class of Her Citizens by the Author. Sacramento: Union Office, 1853. 112 pp., 24 wood-engraved plates (included in pagination) by Charles Nahl, text vignettes. 8vo, modern half dark red morocco over simulated marbled boards. Title page and last leaf foxed, otherwise a fine copy. From John Howell–Books, with their typewritten description laid in.
First edition of another classic of California humor. Braislin 581: “A very rare early work illustrating the life of a California Miner.” Cowan I, p. 65. Cowan II, p. 163. Greenwood 383. Hamilton, Early American Book Illustrators and Wood Engravers 1110: “These sketches had appeared in various public journals but are here first collected in book form.... [The] 24 full-page illustrations and 2 vignettes by Nahl [are] spirited sketches depicting the life of California in the gold rush era.” Howell 50, California 1517. Howes D232. Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 181a. Rocq 6047. This title is not in the Zamorano 80 bibliography, but it makes a great companion piece to Old Block’s Sketch-Book; or, Tales of California Life (see preceding). Of the two titles, Pen-Knife Sketches is more rare. ($1,500-3,000)

29B. DELANO, Alonzo. Pen-Knife Sketches; or, Chips of the Old Block.... San Francisco: Grabhorn Press, 1934. xxi [1] 79 [1] pp., colored chapter heading illustrations and a few full-page illustrations after Nahl’s original plates. Large thin 8vo, original tan cloth over teal boards, printed paper spine label, illustrated paper label on upper cover (after illustration by Nahl). Very fine.
Limited edition (550 copies). Grabhorn (1915-1940) #204. Holliday 286. Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 181c. ($50-150)



Item 29A. Charles Nahl’s engraved portrait of “Old Block” (Alonzo Delano)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Alonzo Delano, affectionately known as “Old Block,” possessed that wonderful ability to record what he saw with pathos, laughter, irony, and realism. Delano was the miner’s spokesman, their champion. Consequently, everyone loved this long-nosed wit. His biographer, G. Ezra Dane, wrote that Delano “was the first truly Californian man of letters, and no one has described or interpreted the human elements of the Gold Rush so sympathetically as he.” Dane characterized his literary style as “a bit rustic, but flowing, chuckling and lucid as a Sierra stream.” This word painter of California life, along with George Horatio Derby (a.k.a. John Phoenix), established a unique brand of Western humor based on the strange and wonderful scenes they saw.
A native of Auburn, New York, Delano resided in Ottawa, Illinois, at the time of the gold discovery. He left for the diggings on April 5, 1849, and entered California via the Lassen Trail. He then made it to the Feather River on September 9 with $4 in his pocket. In 1854, the New York firm of Miller, Orton & Mulligan published his journal, Life on the Plains and among the Diggings, providing what has become one of the great classics of the Overland Trail. In California, Delano engaged in a variety of pursuits including mining, selling squash and cabbage at San Francisco’s Long Wharf, and becoming the agent for Wells Fargo in Grass Valley and then a private banker. Observing with a keen eye the lives and conditions of those struggling to survive in this tumultuous environment, Delano emerged as a prolific writer, sending in scores of sketches to local periodicals including the California Daily Courier, Pacific News, Sacramento Union, Hutchings’ California Magazine, Golden Era, and Hesperian. Many of his best efforts were reproduced in Pen-Knife Sketches, a publication that sold sixteen thousand copies before going into a second printing. Delano followed this up with a delightful satire, The Miner’s Progress; or, Scenes in the Life of a Miner. The Sacramento Daily Union published both titles in 1853.
Old Block’s Sketch-Book serves as a worthy companion to the popular Pen-Knife Sketches. Also published at the office of the Sacramento Union, this latest effort, as related in his introduction, consisted of a look back over the past six years. He loved his miners and wrote with deep feeling about the lives they endured. Perhaps longing for their companionship, a pensive Delano wrote, “I thought of my old comrades who shared my exposures; I thought of the miner in his cabin, or as he toiled on from day to day; and I thought, too, of his heroic courage in battling on and maintaining his good nature under crushing discouragements; and I felt proud that I had shared his toil and feelings alike.” In these sketches he recalled his miner’s cabin, his amigos like “Old Swamp” and Bogue, Sunday in the mines, his first day in Sacramento, the burning of Grass Valley, and a mountain storm. Waxing nostalgic, Delano concluded with the following celebration of his new home: “There is probably no country in the world whose early settlement abounds in more thrilling incident, more daring adventures, or more hardy and chivalrous deeds, than that of our beloved California.”
Delano had the good fortune of having Charles Christian Nahl, “the Cruikshank of California” and arguably the finest artist of the Gold Rush, provide the illustrations for his publication. In Old Block’s Sketch-Book, the fifteen full-page Thomas Armstrong engravings of Nahl’s sketches superbly support Delano’s text. In particular, the action-packed illustrated wrapper cover and the last engraving of Old Block holding onto a cat’s tail for dear life present amusing portraits of this California comic. In addition, the views of Old Block’s cabin, a fight in the diggings, and emigrants crossing the plains are memorable, true-to-life images. Leslie E. Bliss in Zamorano 80 correctly states: “Both author and illustrator are characteristically Californian, and few volumes have a truer flavor of the Mother Lode than this result of their combined efforts.”
Thomas E. Williams’s Fine Arts Press of Santa Ana reprinted the book in 1947 in an edition of 1,000 copies. It included a foreword by Marguerite Eyer Wilbur.

——Gary F. Kurutz

Additional sources consulted: G. Ezra Dane, Foreword to Alonzo Delano’s Pen-Knife Sketches (San Francisco: The Grabhorn Press, 1934); Irving McKee, introduction to Alonzo Delano’s California Correspondence (Sacramento: Sacramento Book Collectors Club, 1952).


Item 29. “Delano had the good fortune of having Charles Christian Nahl, `the Cruikshank of California’ and arguably the finest artist of the Gold Rush, provide the illustrations for...Old Block’s Sketch-Book (Kurutz).


Item 29A. Charles Nahl’s engraving of the “A Live Woman at the Mines” in Delano’s Pen-Knife Sketches.


Plate from Item 29A.



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