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

Lots 3 & 3A

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Item 3. Bancroft’s Works—“As time passes and prejudice drifts into obscurity, these works become more strongly entrenched each year. For scholars and investigators they will always remain the greatest source of authority” (Cowan).

Item 3. Hubert Howe Bancroft (1832-1918)

3. BANCROFT, H[ubert] H[owe] (1832-1918). Works. San Francisco: A. L. Bancroft & Company & The History Company, 1882-1890. 39 vols., complete (engraved portrait of Bancroft, maps, some folding, and text illustrations), 8vo, original full tan levant morocco, upper and lower covers gilt-ruled and gilt-decorated, spines gilt with raised bands, inner gilt dentelles, marbled endpapers and edges. Vol. 4, Native Races, in slightly different binding although spine is uniform with other vols. (a variant binding and marbled endpapers differ slightly—perhaps an extremely well-matched rebinding?). A few inconsequential flaws, such as light wear to spinal extremities of a small number of vols., an occasional bumped corner, one vol. with old tape repair to rear free endpaper, but overall an excellent and handsome set in a desirable, durable binding.
First edition, mixed printings (Howes & LC state 1882-1891, but Howes notes that the set went through several printings). Cowan I, p. 11. Cowan II, p. 33: “As time passes and prejudice drifts into obscurity, these works become more strongly entrenched each year. For scholars and investigators they will always remain the greatest source of authority.” Edwards, Enduring Desert, pp. 19-20. Graff 155. Howell 50, California 1458. Howes B91. Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 3. Libros Californianos (Hanna list), pp. 69. Norris 185. Smith 530. Walgren, The Scallawagiana Hundred: A Selection of the Hundred Most Important Books about the Mormons and Utah 77 (citing vol. 26, Utah). Tweney, The Washington 89 #4. Walker, San Francisco’s Literary Frontier, pp. 302-315. Wheat, Books of the California Gold Rush 10. Zamorano 80 #3. (39 vols.) ($3,000-6,000)

3A. BANCROFT, H[ubert] H[owe]. California Pastoral. The Works...History of Pastoral California 1769-1848 [Vol. 34 of the Works]. San Francisco: The History Co., 1888. vi, 808 pp. 8vo, original sheep, black leather spine labels. Binding abraded and worn (as is often the case with the sheep binding), upper hinge a bit loose, marginal browning to endpapers (due to contact of the acidic binding with the paper), internally fine.
First edition. Adams, Guns 129: “Scarce. Information on train and stagecoach robberies, Murieta, Juan Soto, and Vásquez.” Libros Californianos, pp. 51-52 (Powell commentary on California Pastoral and California Inter Pocula): “[These] are his two greatest books, and moreover, the two foremost works of their type.... The first is a commendable exegesis of ante-gringo days, and the latter a similar fine presentation of gold days and thereafter.... To those who have disparaged Bancroft’s methods and questioned his own literary ability, California Pastoral and California Inter Pocula will always stand in refutation. These were his own literary products, and they stand head and shoulders above his other volumes.” Not in Adams’s Rampaging Herd, but replete with information on ranching. ($40-80)


Bancroft’s thirty-nine-volume history is the most ambitious publishing project ever undertaken in the western United States. His seven-volume History of California for the years its covers (1542-1890) is still the foundation study, the first source for any serious research. Legendary in their length, the footnotes alone make his history worth its weight in factual and bibliographic gold, and his list of over one thousand “Authorities Quoted” is an invaluable aid. Bancroft saw in his publication a great western epic comparing himself to Homer with one notable exception: “Homer dealt in myth,” he wrote, “I should deal in facts; Homer’s were the writings of poetical genius, mine of plodding prose.”
Coming to San Francisco in 1852, it did not take long for the young enterprising native of Ohio to establish a flourishing bookstore, and in the 1860s he began assembling a great library for the purpose of documenting the history of his adopted state and the entire Pacific Slope from Alaska to Central America. Taking sixteen years to complete, the publication of Bancroft’s Works is a marvel of research and publishing organization. It is no accident that he called his venture “The History Company.” Working out of the Bancroft Building, he hired a team of researchers and writers to organize, catalog, index, and transform an ocean of primary source material into narrative history. Bancroft quickly realized he could not do all the writing. Henry L. Oak, his trusted librarian, wrote the first five volumes on California and the text for the histories of New Mexico and Arizona. Frances Fuller Victor produced the volumes on the other western states and territories. Bancroft himself wrote most of the topical volumes including the wonderful account of pre-American life and culture, California Pastoral, and the fascinating summary of his grand endeavor, Literary Industries.
While the history factory churned out the prose, Bancroft simultaneously directed an aggressive advertising campaign, selling the set by subscription. He offered customers the following binding options: $4.50 “bound in extra English cloth”; $5.50 “bound in fine leather, library style”; $8.00 “bound in half calf, half Russia or half morocco”; and $10.00 “bound in Russian leather, or tree calf.” Full sets ranged in price from $175.50 to $390. His army of agents sold over 6,000 sets or about 234,000 volumes. What an incredible feat. Kevin Starr drew an apt comparison: “The Big Four built railroads. Bancroft built history.”
Over the years, Bancroft’s detailed histories have, not surprisingly, produced their critics and champions. The failure to formally acknowledge the contributions of Oak, Victor, and others caused the greatest controversy, branding him as “a purloiner of other people’s brains.” The coverage in the last volume of the History of California is weak compared to the previous six. Others challenged his biases and stance on controversial subjects, but as Bernard De Voto wrote, “His prejudices are open, well known, and easily adjustable.” Franklin Walker summed it up best: “One would not go far wrong in asserting that Hubert Howe Bancroft accomplished the greatest feat of historiography since Thucydides.”
In 1963 Wallace Hebberd published a facsimile edition of the History of California with an introduction by Governor Edmund G. Brown. The usefulness of the seven volumes was greatly enhanced by the Zamorano Club’s The Zamorano Index to History of California by Hubert Howe Bancroft, 2 vols., edited by Everett Gordon Hager and Anna Marie Hager (Los Angeles: University of Southern California, 1985).

——Gary F. Kurutz

Additional sources consulted: John Walton Caughey, Hubert Howe Bancroft, Historian of the West (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1946); Kevin Starr, Americans and the California Dream, 1850-1915 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), pp. 115-19; Franklin Walker, San Francisco’s Literary Frontier (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1939), pp. 302-315.

Complete set of Bancroft’s Works, handsomely bound—“Contains more material about California than can be found in any other history” (Huntington Exhibit).

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