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

Lots 68 & 68A

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Item 68. Shinn’s Mining Camps—“The most tolerantly critical study of mines, miners, and mining that we have” (Powell).

68. SHINN, Charles Howard (1852-1924). Mining Camps: A Study in American Frontier Government. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1885. xi [1, blank] 316 [8, ads] pp. 8vo, original brown cloth with black ruling, gilt-lettered spine. Spine slightly dark and a bit of shelf wear, text lightly age-toned, generally a fine copy. John N. McCue’s copy, with his bookplate and ink ownership inscription dated May 1907.
First edition. Adams, Guns 2003: “Scarce.” Cowan I, pp. 212-13. Cowan II, p. 584. Graff 3760. Holliday 996. Howell 50, California 837. Howes S416. Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 68: “An authoritative study of the administration of mining law in the camps.” Libros Californianos, pp. 52-53 (Powell commentary): “Shinn...understood the period. He was, as the Mexicans say, both contento and simpático. As a result he has written, in his Mining Camps, the most tolerantly critical study of mines, miners, and mining that we have. At no time does he slop over into bawdy sentimentality, but he sees reason—both good or bad—in the most unreasonable acts. Defender of the period he may be called, and he summons in this defense, wisdom, tolerance, and conviction”; p. 70 (Hanna list). Norris 3567. Streeter Sale 2997: “This is one of the twelve important books on the gold rush picked out by J. Gregg Layne and listed in the Book Club of California Quarterly News Letter—Autumn 1948—TWS.” Wheat, Books of the California Gold Rush 188. Zamorano 80 #68 (J. Gregg Layne): “A logical and brilliant defense of the ’49er, and mining-camp ways, by a tolerant and capable student, who lived with, loved, and understood the miners and their ways.” ($300-600)


68A. SHINN, Charles Howard. Mining Camps: A Study in American Frontier Government. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1948. [3] xxvi, 291 [1] vii (index) [1] [1, colophon] pp. 8vo, original brown cloth gilt. Spine light, generally fine.
Second edition, with a new introduction by Joseph Henry Jackson. Howes S416. ($10-20)


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Even by today’s standards and with all the new books published because of the Gold Rush sesquicentennial, Shinn’s Mining Camps still must be regarded as one of the very best narrative histories. Preceding the works of Royce and Bancroft, Mining Camps is the first true interpretative history of the California Gold Rush. As an experienced San Francisco journalist, Shinn knew how to express himself in a lively, attention-getting, finished manner.
Texas-born and California-raised, Shinn went East to Johns Hopkins University in 1882 to pursue a formal education. He chose “to break new ground in a comparatively new field” by focusing on a theme for his classes in political science and history that he knew best, the story of California’s mining camps. Moreover, the student already possessed a substantial understanding of these camps as a result of his own travels as a journalist. He received his B.A. in 1884 and submitted his manuscript to Scribner’s for publication. Rodman Paul, the noted Gold Rush historian, wrote that “the book was really a seminar paper.” By writing in the 1880s, Shinn benefited from the perspective of time and could sift through fact and mythology and distill quantities of information into an accurate interpretation. By that time, too, a number of superior eyewitness accounts and reminiscences had already been published, as well as scores of pamphlets, government documents, and articles in periodicals. Not content with printed sources, he employed the then-innovative technique of interviewing and corresponding with those who had lived during those “flush times.”
Postmodern scholarship frequently characterizes the Argonaut in the most negative terms. Shinn, however, offered a more optimistic approach, recognizing the chaos of the times and the natural proclivities of human nature. As Shinn put it: “He [the Argonaut] often appears in literature as a dialect-speaking rowdy, savagely picturesque, rudely turbulent: in reality he was a plain American citizen cut loose from authority, freed from the restraints and protections of law, and forced to make the defense and organization of society a part of his daily business.” Shinn did not whitewash this history nor did he condemn, but he did criticize the period in the same manner as his friend Josiah Royce (q.v.). He acknowledged the abuse suffered by foreigners, particularly in the southern mines, and called it a dark, shameful chapter. His scholarly study called attention to the central importance of the mining camp as an institution and its influence in establishing governmental institutions in California. He carefully traced the history of mining law as it uniquely developed in California from the first days following Marshall’s discovery. Not long thereafter, he explained, the miners began establishing laws of the camp based on “the amount of ground a man could mine” which in turn evolved into partnerships “almost as sacred as the marriage-bond,” and then into mining companies. He detailed the evolution of alcalde rule, the miner’s court, justice of the peace, mob rule, and relationship of the miner to the farmer. He spoke in eloquent terms of how the miners using the moral principles learned in New England villages and on Western prairies settled a potentially bloody dispute at Scotch Bar (Scott’s Bar) in the Siskiyou-Klamath region, not by fighting or even a jury trial, but by sending the case to San Francisco for a ruling. The commonsense laws that emerged from the helter-skelter of California would help shape the governance of future mining camps in Nevada, Idaho, Colorado, and British Columbia.
Shinn’s Mining Camps offers much more than a narrow focus on the California Gold Rush. Strongly influenced by the university’s approach to American civilization, Shinn devoted the first third of his work to documenting the origins of California mining law by tracing its roots back to ancient Anglo-Teutonic “folk-moots” and the codes of the Middle Ages. The influence of Cornish customs and laws received his attention. Mindful of California’s geographic location and history, Shinn rounded out this section of his book with an in-depth study of Spanish and Mexican governmental institutions and mining laws. The missions, pueblos, and alcaldes all received his scrutiny.
Shinn’s work, because of subject matter and proximity of time, has frequently been compared to Royce’s study. Shinn comes across as much more upbeat while the brooding, reflective Royce focused on the moral challenge of the gold discovery and its aftermath. Royce, in fact, criticized Shinn for failing to make use of newspaper files. On the whole, the two titles work together by offering different perspective on events that are still avidly debated.

——Gary F. Kurutz

Additional sources consulted: Rodman W. Paul, Introduction to Mining Camps: A Study in American Frontier Government (New York: Harper & Row, 1965); Joseph Henry Jackson, Introduction to Mining Camps: A Study in American Frontier Government (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1948).




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