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Lot 32

The Gold Rush from a Lady’s Perspective—Zamorano Eighty
“May well comprise the best account of mining life in the whole of gold rush literature”

32. [CLAPPE, Louise Amelia Knapp Smith]. The Shirley Letters from California Mines in 1851-52 Being a Series of Twenty-Three Letters from Dame Shirley (Mrs. Louise Amelia Knapp Smith Clappe) to Her Sister in Massachusetts and Now Reprinted from the Pioneer Magazine of 1854-55 with Synopses of the Letters, a Foreword, and Many Typographical and Other Corrections and Emendations, by Thomas C. Russell Together with “An Appreciation” by Mrs. M. V. T. Lawrence Illustrated.

San Francisco: Printed by Thomas C. Russell, at his Private Press, 1734 Nineteenth Avenue, 1922 [2], l, [2], 350 [2, colophon, verso blank] pp., 8 hand-colored plates (line illustrations), including frontispiece (scenes in the gold fields, some from letter sheets), initial letters and text ornamentation in royal blue, original tissue guards. 12mo, publisher’s original tan cloth, raw linen backstrip, paper spine label printed in black, t.e.g. Pristine, in fine pictorial d.j. with one minor chip. Preserved in brown cloth and plexiglass slipcase.

     First edition in book form (the letters first appeared serially in The Pioneer: or, California Monthly Magazine, San Francisco: W. H. Brooks & Le Count & Strong, January, 1854-December, 1855. Vols. I-IV, 24 separate issues). This edition was limited to 450 copies, this being #254 of the issue of 200 copies printed on buff California bond paper, signed, numbered, and notated “Hand-colored plates” in ink by Russell on limitation leaf. Cowan II, p. 837. Howes C417. Norris 3601. Rocq 6353. Wheat, Books of the California Gold Rush 39. Zamorano Eighty 69. Joanne Levy in They Saw the Elephant: Women in the California Gold Rush, remarks: “[Dame Shirley’s] letters may well comprise the best account of mining life in the whole of gold rush literature.”

Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 133a:

“Dame Shirley,” as she is known in California literature, sailed around Cape Horn to San Francisco with her husband, Dr. Fayette Clappe. After a short stay in San Francisco, Dr. Clappe went off for the diggings at Rich Bar. Shirley joined him on September 13, 1851 and began a series of twenty-three letters to her sister back home in Massachusetts. Dame Shirley wrote the last letter on November 21, 1852. Upon returning to San Francisco, Dame Shirley separated from her husband and eventually met Ferdinand C. Ewer, the editor of California’s first magazine, The Pioneer. Recognizing the value of this beautifully crafted firsthand account of the mines, Ewer published one Shirley letter in each number of The Pioneer beginning in January 1854 and ending with the demise of the magazine in December 1855. The letters were published under the name of “Dame Shirley” rather than her married name.

      The Shirley Letters have received the highest possible praise. The importance of her letters was recognized early on and influenced the views and writings of Josiah Royce, Hubert Howe Bancroft, Bret Harte, and possibly, Samuel Clemens. Carl Wheat wrote: “These superlatively readable and informative letters...may well be accorded first place in any gathering of notable Gold Rush literature.” Rodman Paul provides the best overview of this remarkable lady in “In Search of Dame Shirley,” Pacific Historical Review, XXXIII, No. 2 (May, 1964), pp. 127-146.

      Thomas C. Russell published the first edition of Shirley Clappe’s letters in book form. Concerning this work, Russell wrote: “This book is one of an edition of four hundred and fifty (450) copies numbered and signed, the impressions being taken upon hand-set type, which was distributed upon completion of the presswork. In two hundred (200) copies Exeter book-paper is used, leaf-size being 9 1/4 x 6 1/4 inches; in two hundred (200) copies, buff California hand-paper, 8 3/8 x 5 1/2; in fifty (50) copies, thin buff California bond-paper, 6 x 9.” The plates were drawn from old prints and, in many copies, hand-colored. Sold by subscription, the original price, according to the prospectus, was $12.50.


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