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

Lot 43

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Item 43. Hittell’s History of California—“The best history of California within reasonable proportions” (Cowan).

43. HITTELL, Theodore H[enry] (1830-1917). History of California. San Francisco: [vol. 1] Pacific Press Publishing House & Occidental Publishing, 1885; [vols. 2, 3 & 4]: N. J. Stone & Company, 1897. 799 + 823 + 891 + 858 pp. 4 vols., large 8vo, original full sheep, red and black morocco spine labels, edges and endpapers marbled. Fragile sheep bindings worn (head of spine of vol. 2 chipped, some small areas with peeling), text very clean. Ex-library, with purple ink stamps and old manuscript ink call numbers of the Oak Grove District Library in Sonoma.
First edition, mixed set (first printing of vols. 1, 3 & 4; second printing of vol. 2). Vols. 1 & 2 appeared first; vols. 3 and 4 appeared in 1897 after Stone took over publication. The 1897 edition was followed immediately by an 1898 printing. Barrett, Baja California 1213. Cowan I, pp. 112-13. Cowan II, p. 285n (citing the 1898 edition). Holliday 520. Howell 50, California 1550. Howes H544. Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 43. Norris 1648, 1649. Rocq 16925 (citing the 1898 edition). Zamorano 80 #43. (4 vols.) ($200-400)

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Robert E. Cowan, in his A Bibliography of California and the Pacific West proclaimed Hittell’s four-volume work “The best history of California within reasonable proportions.” Hittell, a highly respected San Francisco attorney and author, had worked on this stupendous history survey for a quarter of a century. The finished product was compared in monumentality to the works of Francis Parkman and George Bancroft, and in many circles considered superior to H. H. Bancroft’s seven-volume History of California. Even today it remains an essential and frequently consulted reference.
The author of several legal treatises and the popular The Adventures of James Capen Adams (q.v.), Hittell began writing his 3,371-page history in 1871. He methodically plowed through the three hundred volumes of the Archive of California, a fortunate occurrence since the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire destroyed this precious resource. This archive as well as dozens of published accounts provided the foundation for the first two volumes. Published in 1886 by Pacific Press Publishing House and Occidental Publishing Company, after fourteen years of “gigantic toil,” they focused on the Spanish and Mexican periods and the conquest of California. Twelve years later, Hittell finished the final two volumes and N. J. Stone took over its publication. The third volume dealt with the Gold Rush and mining, history of San Francisco, Joaquín Murieta and his bandits, the California Filibusters, and growth of the state; while the fourth covered political history since 1850 and featured biographies of all the governors. Most importantly, Hittell crowned this concluding volume with an invaluable index to the entire work. Curiously, though, he did not write an introduction or preface and did not include a bibliography.
The third volume with its emphasis on the Golden Era is Hittell at his finest. This was a narrative of times and events that he knew firsthand, and consequently, is a delight to read with its colorful and amusing descriptions of life in the gold camps. A review in the Overland Monthly for November 1897, in describing his treatment of this rough-and-tumble period, provided a wonderful analysis that is as true today as it was then: “With admirable fairness he draws his picture of the early miner, not making him the demi-god of fiction, not the cutthroat he has been accused of being, but a man, full of the strange contradictions caused by the unique conditions of the times.”
Reviews in the Overland Monthly, Land of Sunshine, and Chicago Inter Ocean praised the work not only for its erudition but also for its readability. In fact, it was touted as something that “should be in all school libraries” and for “thrilling home reading.” It received the endorsement of the educational community. Upon receiving his four-volume set, John Muir said that he “read it from beginning to end with enthusiastic delight.” To promote sales, Stone issued a fifteen-page pamphlet giving a short history of the project and a litany of congratulatory statements.
Comparisons, of course, have been made with H. H. Bancroft’s seven-volume history. Hittell emerges as a “biblio-hero” of sorts for working alone and doing all his own research and writing. This contrasted sharply with Bancroft’s History Company. Charles F. Lummis, in his magazine, The Land of Sunshine, took a direct slap at Bancroft’s methodology: “It [Hittell’s] is a monumental work...for in place of hiring irresponsible reporters to do the work, while the ‘historian’ [Bancroft] slaps it together, this fine old type of ripened man and scholar has done this life-work himself, and is responsible for it, not only upon the title page but in fact. That is to say, he knows his own details, instead of guessing that someone else knows them.” On the other hand, Bancroft’s voluminous footnotes and authorities quoted represent an invaluable aid to research.
As advertised in the N. J. Stone Company pamphlet, the publisher sold the royal octavo volumes by subscription and “printed from clear, beautiful new type upon stout, well finished, super calendar paper.” Stone offered four binding styles ranging from cloth at $16.00 a set to full turkey morocco with beveled boards and gilt edges for $30.00. New editions were issued in 1897 and 1898.

——Gary F. Kurutz

Additional sources consulted: In Memoriam: Theodore Henry Hittell (San Francisco: California Academy of Sciences, 1918); [prospectus] History of California by Theodore H. Hittell (San Francisco: N. J. Stone & Co., 1897); Review of vols. 1 & 2 in Overland Monthly 8, Second Series (October 1886), pp. 447-48; Review of vol. 3 in Overland Monthly 30, Second Series (November 1897), p. 471; Review in The Land of Sunshine, 7:5 (October 1897), p. 208.




Item 43. Engraving of State Seal of California in Hittell’s History of California.



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