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A Few Words about the Volkmann Collection

Beatrice Simpson was born 1887 in the town of Tehama on the Sacramento River in Northern California. Her father Andrew Simpson had come across the plains from Pennsylvania in the 1870s and bought ranch land on the banks of the Sacramento River outside of town. He married Emma Allen Owen, born in Mariposa, California, in 1854. The Simpson home and ranch are shown in a lithographic view in The History of Tehama County, Elliot and Moore, Publishers, 1880.

Andrew and Emma’s only daughter was sent to Berkeley to board at the Anna Head School. On the death of her father, her mother moved to Oakland, and Beatrice attended the University of California. At the end of her sophomore year she was invited to accompany her close friend and Anna Head School classmate Else Schilling and the Schilling family to Europe. The trip lasted several months, and on her return she did not go back to the University.

In 1919, she married Daniel G. Volkmann whose grandfather William Daegener was the Wells Fargo Agent in Columbia, California, in the middle of the gold country, from 1856 to 1869. A fire destroyed much of the town in 1857, including the company building. Daegener rebuilt a new two-story brick building with the family quarters over the office. That Wells Fargo building still stands today in Columbia, now a California State Park.

Volkmann’s father, George F. Volkmann, arrived in San Francisco from Bremen, Germany, in 1875 and went to work for the coffeehouse of Folger, Schilling & Co. In 1881, August Schilling and Volkmann left the firm to found A. Schilling & Co. with Volkmann as one-third owner, later revised to equal ownership. The company sold coffee, tea, baking powder, mustard, and spices.

The second premises the company occupied were at 108 Market Street. Note the 30-foot pole at curbside with a copper kettle mounted on top from which steam poured out of the spout (see photo). In 1903, the firm erected factory and office buildings at the southeast corner of Second and Folsom Streets on a lot 275 feet square. On April 18, 1906, the entire plant was destroyed by the earthquake and fire; it was rebuilt the following year at the same location (see engraving). Today the site is occupied by a large, high-rise office building. In 1935, the Volkmann family bought out the Schilling interests and continued the business until 1947, when it was sold to McCormick & Co. of Baltimore.

Beatrice Volkmann, with the history of her own family and her husband’s family in California, enjoyed reading about the history of the state. She first bought Grabhorn Press books that were reprints of early California stories and histories. The family pediatrician was Dr. George D. Lyman, author of John Marsh Pioneer: Saga of the Comstock Lode and other books about California. As a good friend and mentor he advised her as she collected and read Californiana over the years.

On her death in 1969, her library was appraised by Warren Howell at $8,238.00. The most valuable book was Louis Choris’s Voyage Autour du Monde, valued at $2,000. Fourteen Zamorano 80 first editions were included. Her daughter, Virginia Volkmann Bosche, took a few books that interested her, and her son, Daniel G. Volkmann Jr., inherited the remainder. As an architect, the Grabhorn items particularly interested him because of their handsome design. Over the years, A. Schilling & Co. had commissioned a few of the Grabhorn imprints about the company. And Beatrice Volkmann commissioned the Grabhorns to print a limited fine edition in 1947 of a short piece about the founders of the family business by Robert O’Brien, Two Young Men from Bremen, soon after its publication in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Dan Volkmann’s wife, Marvin Johnson Volkmann, who died in 1990, was also from a pioneer California family. Her great-great-grandfather, John Conness, emigrated from Ireland to the United States in 1833 and arrived in California in 1849. A few years later he was elected United States Senator from California and served from 1863 to 1869. Mount Conness in Yosemite National Park is named for him.

Marvin Volkmann’s grandfather, C. R. Johnson, founded the Union Lumber Company in Fort Bragg, California, in 1885. It was the second-largest producer of redwood lumber in the state for many years. Her father, Otis R. Johnson, and brother, C. Russell Johnson, were successive company presidents until the company was sold in 1958.

Dan Volkmann at first bought a few Grabhorns from David Magee and Warren Howell. Later some of the first editions that had been reprinted by the Grabhorns came to auction and were purchased. As his interests grew and became more varied, so did the library. After twenty-nine years there were some eighteen hundred volumes, including 75 Zamorano 80 first editions.

The Volkmann Grabhorn Press collection is among the most complete anywhere. Among the many books illustrated by Valenti Angelo there are three copies, all different, of The Book of Ruth, which Angelo illustrated for the Grabhorn Press. The collection is not restricted to the fine printing of the Grabhorn Press alone. A collection of the exquisite imprints of the Allen Press is complete. The handsome publications of the Book Club of California are well represented, as are outstanding examples from other California fine presses. A recent acquisition is the magnificent two-volume Holy Bible, with initial letters designed by Sumner Stone and printed at San Francisco’s Arion Press.

First editions of California classics include fine copies of the best works of a wide variety of authors: Robinson Jeffers’s The Women at Point Sur; John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath; John Linville Hall’s Journal of the Hartford and Union Mining & Trading Company, 1868; The Yosemite Book; and early San Francisco directories. Selected works by Bret Harte, Ambrose Bierce, Mary Austin, Jack London, John Muir, Charles Warren Stoddard, and Frank Norris are also represented.

Maps in the collection include Jackson’s 1849 Map of the Mining Districts of California; T. H. Jefferson’s 1850 maps of the route to California; Cooke & LeCount’s 1852 map of San Francisco; Colton’s 1849 Map of United States showing the Gold Regions in California; Quirot Co’s map of San Francisco, 1853; and Herman Moll’s large color map of North America showing California as an island, 1718.

In 1994, five of the most rare Zamorano 80 books were purchased at auction. Shortly thereafter it was discovered that Zamorano 80 title #36, T. J. Farnham’s History of California, was a second edition. After several years of search a very fine copy of the first edition of the Farnham was bought from a private collector, which completed the Zamorano 80 collection now offered at auction.

Mr. Volkmann is a member of the Roxburghe Club of San Francisco, a member and past director of the Book Club of California, a member of the Grolier Club, past president of the Gleeson Library Associates of the University of San Francisco, and presently serves on the Council of the Friends of the Bancroft Library.

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