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

Lot 42

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Item 42: Hittell’s Adventures of James Capen Adams, illustrated by Charles Nahl—“The most famous bear book associated with the Golden State” (Kurutz).

42. HITTELL, Theodore H[enry] (1830-1917). The Adventures of James Capen Adams, Mountaineer and Grizzly Bear Hunter, of California. San Francisco: Towne and Bacon, Printers and Publishers, 1860. 378 pp., engraved frontispiece portrait of author, 11 engraved plates by Eastman and Loomis after drawings by Charles Nahl. 8vo, original brown blindstamped cloth, spine gilt-lettered. Head of spine neatly reinforced with matching cloth, tear on front free endpaper, otherwise very fine. This book, which Hanna described as “a thriller of the sixties” in the Zamorano 80 bibliography, was so popular and avidly read that it is exceedingly difficult to locate a copy in fine condition that has not been “read to death.” Bookplates of noted collector, author, and professor of medicine Dr. Roger K. Larson and bibliographer extraordinaire, historian, and author Robert Ernest Cowan (see Talbot, Historic California in Book Plates, where Cowan’s bookplate is illustrated as frontispiece & p. 9: “Etched in tones of ivory and palest sepia by the artist, Lawrence Scammon, the bookplate is a faithful representation of the packet San Cárlos, which figured in the sea expedition for the colonization of California in San Diego in 1769”).
First edition. Cowan I, p. 112. Cowan II, p. 284. Currey & Kruska, Yosemite 147: “A Boston edition was issued later the same year.” Graff 1912. Greenwood 1274. Holliday 519. Howell 50, California 116. Howes H543. Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 42. Jones 1416. Plains & Rockies IV:348:1. Rocq 15858. Wheat, Books of the California Gold Rush 100. Zamorano 80 #42. ($750-1,500)


As told by Theodore Hittell, The Adventures of James Capen Adams is the ultimate outdoor adventure story in California history, centering on a man who would have made Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett proud. It is certainly the most famous bear book associated with the Golden State. Bibliographer Robert E. Cowan declared this thrilling story “Probably the most popular work of its time issued in California.” As a result of this book, “Grizzly” Adams and his incredible menagerie of High Sierra beasts became a sensation first in San Francisco, and then, under the auspices of P. T. Barnum, in New York City.
The genesis of this publication is one of the great stories of authorship and is wonderfully recorded by Hittell in the 1911 edition of his book. In October 1856, Hittell, then a young writer for the San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin, saw a placard on a basement door on the south side of Clay, near Leidesdorff Street, advertising the “Mountaineer Museum.” The curious correspondent descended the stairs and his eyes must have widened considerably as he saw an animal show that featured three bears named Sampson, Ben Franklin, and Lady Washington and an assortment of bear cubs, eagles, cougars, elk, and other beasts. This menagerie of California fauna was amazingly located in the middle of a city block. Sampson, a three-quarter ton grizzly, was the star attraction. Hittell, in the middle of this extraordinary display, spotted the wiry, bearded, buckskin-clad owner named James Capen Adams and engaged him in conversation. Remarkably, Adams seemed to have perfect control over his bears, and at one point, rode Ben Franklin around the museum. “My interest,” Hittell related, “became thoroughly aroused.” Clearly, Hittell saw in Adams and his animal friends literary gold and began a series of articles for the Bulletin and then determined to do a full-scale book. Between July 1857 and December 1859, the mountain man told the eager journalist his life story concerning his adventures hunting, capturing, and taming wild animals in the West and High Sierra. From these notes, Hittell turned Adams’s life story into a book-length manuscript in the winter of 1859-1860. Interestingly, Hittell wrote the story in the first-person as if it were an autobiography by the mountain man.
In 1860, the distinguished San Francisco printers Towne and Bacon produced the 378-page book for Hittell. That same year, Crosby, Nichols, Lee and Company of Boston also published the book. Francis P. Farquhar, that relentless bibliographer, did an extensive study of this fascinating title and determined that the San Francisco imprint is the true first edition. Farquhar believed the Boston edition was produced from stereotyped plates created in San Francisco and sent to H. O. Houghton for printing. Houghton is listed on the verso of the title page of the Boston edition as the printer. The Adventures of James Capen Adams was printed again in 1861. Hittell himself revealed that because of business troubles occasioned by the Civil War, the “publication was discontinued and the book went ‘out of print.’” In 1867, using the same stereotype plates, the title was reissued under the imprint of Crosby and Ainsworth of Boston and Oliver S. Felt of New York. Charles Scribner & Sons published a new edition in 1911 with an introduction by Hittell.
The twelve illustrations created by Gold Rush artist Charles Christian Nahl beautifully complement Hittell’s word pictures. The San Francisco engravers Eastman and Loomis transformed Nahl’s drawings into woodcuts. Nahl depicted Adams in a variety of activities ranging from engaging in mortal combat with a towering elk to walking calmly alongside the grizzly Ben Franklin. The later printings included these charming illustrations.
Recently, the Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley, acquired a manuscript consisting of Hittell’s transcriptions of his interviews with Adams. The 647-page manuscript is marked on the final page “Notes of Conversations with James C. Adams.”

——Gary F. Kurutz

Additional sources consulted: Francis P. Farquhar, “The Grizzly Bear Hunter of California,” in Essays for Henry R. Wagner (San Francisco: The Grabhorn Press, 1947), pp. 27-42; Tracy I. Storer and Lloyd P. Tevis Jr., California Grizzly (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1955), pp. 234-36, 297-98.

Item 42: Charles Nahl’s illustration of James Capen Adams and his pet grizzly bear, Ben Franklin.

Item 42: Engraving of California bear after the art work of Charles Nahl.

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