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

Lots 40, 40A & 40B

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Item 40. Bret Harte’s The Luck of Roaring Camp—“Bret Harte’s greatest book [and] one of the cornerstones of California literature” (Howell).

40. HARTE, [Francis] Bret[t] (1836-1902). The Luck of Roaring Camp, and Other Sketches. Boston: Fields, Osgood & Co., 1870. iv [4] 239 pp. 12mo, original plum blindstamped cloth, gilt-lettered spine with publisher’s device. Spine a trifle sunned, minor wear to spine tips, generally a near fine copy. Old small discreet India ink ownership stamps of J. E. Snyder of Troy, New York, on verso of front free endpaper and recto of lower endpaper; contemporary ink ownership inscription of Mrs. George W. Davies of New Brunswick. With the book is W. C. Van Antwerp’s typed letter signed, dated March 15, 1937, to Beatrice Simpson Volkmann discussing bibliographical matters relating to Bret Harte and a preliminary typed catalogue of first editions and appearances.
First edition. Baird-Greenwood 1104. BAL 7246. Bennett, American Book Collecting, pp. 140-41. Cowan II, p. 267. Graff 1805. Grolier American Hundred 76. Hart, Companion to California, p. 178: “The first of his local-color stories of life in the mines.” Holliday 486. Howell 50, California 510: “Bret Harte’s greatest book [and] one of the cornerstones of California literature.” Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 40. Johnson, High Spots of American Literature, p. 37. LC, California Centennial 277. Norris 1497. Powell, California Classics, pp. 77-91. Streeter Sale 2925. Walker, San Francisco’s Literary Frontier, pp. 128, 130, 261, 252. Wheat, Books of the California Gold Rush 91. Wright III:1117. Zamorano 80 #40. ($400-800)

40A. HARTE, [Francis] Bret[t] . The Luck of Roaring Camp, and Other Sketches. Boston: Fields, Osgood & Co., 1870. iv [4] 256 pp. 12mo, original plum blindstamped cloth, gilt-lettered spine with publisher’s device. Spine a bit light and tips slightly worn, generally very fine and fresh. With author’s original autograph letter relating to publication of this book, signed and written in purple ink on stationery of The Overland Monthly with engraved illustration of bear, to Fields, Osgood & Co.: “...I shall endeavor to send copy for the projected book by Decem. 1st....I am quite satisfied with the terms you have already indicated. I propose to call the volume ‘Roaring Camp and Other Camps; being Sketches of California Life and Character.’”
Second American edition, with the added short story “Brown of Calaveras” (not present in first edition). BAL 7247. ($250-500)

40B. HARTE, [Francis] Bret[t] . The Luck of Roaring Camp: A Story by Bret Harte.... San Francisco: [Grabhorn Press for] Ransohoff, 1948. [8] 16 [1] pp., 4 large illustrations including divisional title in gold, colored by Mallette Dean. Folio, original maroon cloth over maroon boards lettered and decorated on front cover, paper spine label printed in gold. Binding slightly faded, otherwise very fine.
Limited edition (300 copies), introduction by Oscar Lewis. Grabhorn (1940-1956) #469. ($75-150)


Bret Harte, with the publication of The Luck of Roaring Camp, created the popular perception of the California Gold Rush. His stories of rambunctious yet gentle forty-niners, slick gamblers, stagecoach drivers, and naughty ladies made the “Days of old, days of gold, the days of ’49” come alive for reading audiences for generations. Gary Scharnhorst, Harte’s most current biographer, in assessing his powerful influence wrote: “More than any other writer, Bret Harte was at the forefront of western American literature, paving the way for writers such as Mark Twain, Joaquin Miller, Ina Coolbrith, Prentice Mulford, and Charles Warren Stoddard.” California historian Andrew Rolle, in describing the impact of Harte’s short stories wrote, “He did for the miner what Owen Wister later did for the cowboy.”
A native of Albany, New York, Harte came to California in the early 1850s, actually mined for gold, worked as an expressman, taught school, set type, and contributed articles to San Francisco’s Golden Era. He received his first major break when bookseller and publisher Anton Roman hired the up-and-coming writer to edit a new literary magazine, the Overland Monthly. Roman envisioned the Overland as the West Coast’s answer to the Atlantic Monthly. To help supply copy for the fledgling monthly, Harte, as many editors do and did, contributed his own material. For the second issue, published in August 1868, he unveiled “The Luck of Roaring Camp.” While the story about the offspring (The Luck) of Cherokee Sal (a prostitute) raised some Victorian eyebrows, it became a literary “blockbuster.” Harte followed this up with several other stories with Gold Rush settings, including “The Outcasts of Poker Flat” and “Tennessee Partner.” Using paradox as a device, his rough-hewn Dickensian characters often displayed hearts of gold and moments of tenderness. The Overland also published much of his poetry including “Plain Language from Truthful James,” a misunderstood sympathetic piece on the Chinese that became best known as “The Heathen Chinee.”
Harte had emerged as bright star on the literary horizon and he entered into a contract to publish a selection of his Gold Rush stories in book form. He completed the preface on Christmas Eve, 1869, and early in 1870, Fields, Osgood of Boston published the anthology under the general title of The Luck of Roaring Camp. It included eight sketches, three stories, and four “fugitive pieces” from his “Bohemian Papers,” many of which had appeared previously in the Overland Monthly. A highly complimentary review appeared in the San Francisco Daily Alta California for May 15, 1870. In describing “the dainty and attractive volume,” the reviewer stressed Harte’s realism and faithfulness to history in capturing the flavor of the times. “In the domain of fiction,” enthused the reviewer, “there never has been anything so honestly and so well done for any locality, as what Mr. Harte had done for California. It will be long before anything better is done anywhere.” That same year, the Atlantic Monthly hired away this California celebrity making him the highest paid writer in America. With this prestigious post, Harte left the land of golden dreams never to return and never again to reach such prominence.
Because of these stories, Harte has been both praised and scorned and has fallen in and out of vogue. On the one hand, through the use of “local color” he called international attention to California and its young, lusty history. Furthermore, he single-handedly gave California its own mythology, and in so doing, has been credited with establishing the “Western” as a genre. Even Hollywood transformed his characters into television programs and movies. Reflecting his importance in American literature, such literary titans as Wallace Stegner and Walter Van Tilburg Clark have contributed introductions to twentieth-century editions of Harte. Modern anthologies of Western writing invariably include an example of his Roaring Camp sketches. On the other hand, his detractors pummel his characters and plots for being too saccharine, overly romantic, and formulaic. Furthermore, revisionist historians wanting to smash the myth of the California Gold Rush are, in reality, assaulting the Harte-created stereotype. Nonetheless, as so ably pointed out by Dr. Scharnhorst, Bret Harte paved the way.

——Gary F. Kurutz

Additional sources consulted: Walter Van Tilburg Clark, Foreword to Bret Harte: Stories of the Early West (New York: Platt & Munk, 1964); Lawrence Clark Powell, California Classics (Los Angeles: The Ward Ritchie Press, 1971), pp. 77-91; Andrew Rolle, California: A History (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1969), p. 270; Gary Scharnhorst, Introduction to The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Writings (New York: Penguin Classics, 2001); Franklin Walker, San Francisco’s Literary Frontier, pp. 262-68.

Item 40A. Bret Harte’s autograph letter to his publisher, relating to publication of this book, signed and written in purple ink on stationery of The Overland Monthly with engraved illustration of bear.

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