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Auction 15: Fine Collection of Californiana Formed by Daniel G. Volkmann Jr.

Lots 121-123: Gold, Photography, Iconography

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121. LAUR, M. Du gisement et de l’exploitation de l’or en Californie. Paris: Dunod, 1863. [2] 89 pp., 5 lithographed folded plates (2 by Garnier after original photographs), 1 lithographed folded map (Carte de Californie d’après les Documents connues en 1862. Relation d’un Voyage aux Mines de Californie par M. P. Laur Ingénieur des Mines. 50.5 x 44 cm; 19-7/8 x 17-3/8 inches; with gold region hand-colored). 8vo, contemporary half red roan over marbled boards. Rubbed, light shelf wear, hinges open but strong, light uniform age toning and foxing, small waterstain in upper blank corners of most leaves, map with 10 cm (4-inch) tear at text block (no loss). With embossed stamp of N. Fouert on half title and title page.

     First separate edition, reprinted from its appearance in the Annales des Mines, vol. 3 (1863). Eberstadt 167:88. Howell, Americana 313. Nasatir, p. 432. Shedd, p. 151. This little-known work by a French mining engineer who visited California on a mission from the French government is very flattering to California. In his introduction, Laur thanks Frémont for his hospitality and help. Laur describes and illustrates the relatively new system of washing out gold deposits with high pressure water hoses, which is illustrated in one of the photographic plates. The other photo shows a large scene of quartz mining in Bear Valley with the scale indicated by a tiny human figure. The photographs impart a sense of immediacy, giving the viewer a real sense of mining operations during the latter stage of the Gold Rush.

122. LE CONTE, Joseph. A Journal of Ramblings through the High Sierras of California by the “University Excursion Party.” San Francisco: Francis & Valentine, 1875. 103 pp., 9 mounted albumen photographs (excursion party, views, scene in San Francisco) within red borders and captions beneath printed in red. 8vo, original blue gilt-lettered cloth. Spine lightly rubbed, corners bumped, uniform light age toning. A very good association copy, with ink manuscript presentation from expedition member Dell Linderman to Peter Gurfin, July 21, 1879, on front free endpaper.

    First edition. Cowan I, p. 137 (stating that but 20 copies were printed, an assertion absent in his second edition). Cowan II, p. 387. Currey & Kruska 230. Farquhar, Yosemite 14a: “The original edition was printed for the members of the party, 10 in number. Professor Le Conte’s son, Joseph N. Le Conte, tells me that he thinks 12 copies were made for each of them.... Nothing can quite equal the charm of the original thin blue volume with its photographs.” Howes L175. Kurutz, California Books Illustrated with Original Photographs 1856-1890 #27. Littell 631. Neate, Mountaineering and Its Literature 451: “The book is regarded as one of the greatest classics of early Californian mountain travel.” Norris 2040. Eight of the beautiful photographs depict natural scenery (often including members of the excursion party). The last, however, shows Montgomery Street in San Francisco and includes an exterior view of Bradley & Rulofson’s photographic studio. Le Conte (1823-1901) was an early, significant professor of geology and natural history in California. This excursion was actually something of a teaching trip, and the party spent some time with John Muir.

123. [LETTS, J. M.]. A Pictorial View of California; Including a Description of the Panama and Nicaragua Routes, with Information and Advice Interesting to All, Particularly Those Who Intend to Visit the Gold Region. By a Returned Californian. Sold only by Subscription. New York: Henry Bill, 1853. 224 [1, ads] [1, blank] pp., 48 lithographed plates on toned grounds (including frontispiece) of scenes and views in the California Gold Rush, Mexico, and Central America after original drawings of George Victor Cooper. 8vo, original red gilt-pictorial cloth. Cloth slightly faded, corners renewed, very scattered light foxing to text and plates, otherwise fine.

    Second edition (the first edition was published in 1852 and reissued numerous times that year, with varying numbers of plates; the work is generally thought to be complete with 48 plates). Bradford 2980. Braislin 1148. Cowan I, p. 140n. Cowan II, p. 390n. Eberstadt 114:150: “Copies with all the 48 plates are the exception.” Graff 2469. Hill 1015. Cf. Holliday 656. Cf. Howell 50, California 603. Cf. Howell, Americana 358. Howes L300. Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 398e: “Drawing on his personal experience, Letts produced one of the best accounts of gambling, violence, and life in the mines.” Littell 641. Norris 2055. Peters, California on Stone, pp. 97, 103-105 (John Cameron and George W. Casilear). Rocq 15917. Vail, Gold Fever, p. 20. Wheat, Books of the California Gold Rush 125n. Letts’s book is among the most readable and vividly illustrated works on the Gold Rush experience.

Hill comments: “Letts embarked for California in January 1849. He sailed to Chagres and took the overland route to the Pacific.... He headed for the gold fields and worked at Mormon Bar and Auburn. Finding himself unlucky in this pursuit, he opened a store and did better in business.... The narrative is written in high good humor, relating numerous anecdotes and commonplace occurrences from a whimsical point of view.” Despite the lightheartedness ascribed to Letts, his descriptions occasionally reveal the very dark side of his experiences. At the diggings, people are afflicted with a disease called “land scurvy.” Of one victim, he remarks after the burial, “He grew to manhood, pledged his hand and heart to the one he loved, combatted, perhaps, with adversity, and finally bade farewell to his own offspring, to die a stranger in a strange land” (p. 122).

    This work is notable for the fine series of lithographed plates of California views and scenery by George V. Cooper. Peters, California on Stone, pp. 103-105: “From 1849 to 1852 [Cooper] was in California, traveling about the heart of the mining the working partner of J. M. Letts.... Cooper has left us a pungent, graphic record of the long trip to and from the gold fields, of the young cities he found mushrooming there, of booming San Francisco and Sacramento, of the lovely vestiges of the mission-founding padres in early California, and of the actual life of the Forty-niners, with its flavor of roughing it, humor, hope, and all the luring magic of the yellow streak.” One of the illustrations shows the author and artist at Fort Sutter, with Cooper drawing in his sketchbook. Many of the lithos are early views of California towns and cities. Mexican images include two views of Cabo San Lucas, three of Acapulco, and the Baja California coast.

The large number of early city views in this work make it a valuable documentary source.

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