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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”).
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.
——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.