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Lot 40

“Such a mixed and motley crowd—such a restless, roving, rummaging, ragged multitude, never before roared in the rockeries of man.”

40. COLTON, Walter. Three Years in California. By Rev. Walter Colton, U.S.N. Late Alcalde of Monterey; Author of “Deck and Port,” etc., etc. With Illustrations. New York: [Stereotyped by Richard C. Valentine, New York., F. C. Gutierrez, Printer, No. 51 John-street, corner of Dutch, for] A. S. Barnes & Co., No. 51 John-Street; Cincinnati: H. W. Derby & Co., 1850. 456 pp., 13 plates, folding facsimile, map, text illustrations, ads on front endpapers. 8vo, publisher’s original red blindstamped cloth, gilt-lettered spine, gilt vignette of the Great Seal of California on upper cover. Minor shelf wear and occasional light fox marks, but all in all, a superb, bright, tight copy, plates excellent. Ron Randall’s neat pencil notes on lower pastedown.


Valley of the Sacramento and San Joaquin. [above neat line at bottom]: J. W. Orr. N. Y. 14.5 x 8.5 cm; 5-3/4 x 3-3/8 inches. Woodcut. Uncolored.

Folding facsimile

Declaration of Rights in the Constitution of California, and the Signatures of the Members of the Convention. Engraved on sepia tone bank note paper. 38 x 56 cm; 14-1/4 x 22 inches.


6 portraits with facsimile signatures, uncolored, all engraved by Burt, sc:

[Frontispiece]: John A. Sutter

Thomas O. Larkin

J. C. Frémont

Wm. M. Gwin

G. W. Wright

Jacob R. Snyder

Views & Scenes

6 engraved plates on tinted grounds, all by J. W. Orr:

A United States deserter, from the fort at Monterey, on his way to the mines, upon the back of mule which the vulture claims. Mordant humor at its best.

A California party on a pic-nic excursion. Lush, bucolic mountain scene with prancing horses and grandly outfitted riders, as Pastoral California fades in the wake of the Gold Rush.

One of the “upper ten” in the diggings, and a California savan— “My charge for examination is exactly one pound of gold. Science is extremely rare in these parts, and I have the only spy-glass.” Mining scene in which a well-dressed city-type holds a shovel of ore being examined by a crafty looking curmudgeon with a small magnifier.

An Alcalde at the mines examining a lump of gold—catches the fever—drops his staff of office, and tells his sheriff to go home and hang the prisoner whom he left at the bar, and he will sentence him afterwards. Mountain mining scene with uniformed soldier and alcalde in fancy dress examining a lump held by a hoary miner, another miner and mule in background.

Degrees of fortune in the California Gold-diggings. Four miners with mining tools, expressing emotions ranging from jubilance to pathos and derangement.

“Come, old fellow, you had better knock off, and go home with me”—”No, I’ll be ding’d if I do. I’m in for the gold, and will find it, or dig out the other side. I’m told it is only eight thousand miles through! so, here goes!” Mining scene with tall, scrawny younger miner urging an elderly bald miner to abandon a deep hole he is digging.

     First edition. Byrd 6. Cowan I, pp. 52-53: “The facsimile...’Declaration of Rights’ often missing.” Cowan II, p. 137. Graff 839. Hill II:343. Howell, California 50:45. Howes C625. Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 20. Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 151a. LC, California Centennial 239. Norris 827. Rocq 5644. Sabin 14800. Walker, San Francisco’s Literary Frontier, p. 21. Wheat, Books of the California Gold Rush 46: “Colton’s entries graphically depict the news and results of the gold discovery in the coastal towns. Excellent engraved portraits of Sutter and other pioneers.” Wheat, Maps of the California Gold Region 146. Zamorano 80 #20.

     The lively plates tinged with sardonic humor are the work of wood engraver William Orr (1815-1887), came to the United States at an early age and studied with William Redfield in New York City. Orr established studios in Buffalo (1837) and New York City (1844). “He was one of the best known wood engravers of his generation” (Hamilton, Early American Book Illustrators and Wood Engravers, vol. 2, p. 127).

Gary Kurutz in Volkmann Zamorano 80 catalogue:

Walter Colton, the former editor of the North American in Philadelphia and first American alcalde at Monterey, wrote one of the most colorful, breezy, and fact-filled accounts of the conquest of California and the early days of the gold discovery. It is an essential work documenting the transition of California from a remote Mexican province to a pulsating, gold-driven American state. The majority of the book is written in journal form and opens with the raising of the American flag at Monterey on July 10, 1846. Colton, in the first chapters, covers the Mexican-American War in Alta California and news of the campaign in Mexico. In addition, he provides engaging and often humorous and satirical descriptions of life in the old capital. Along with Robert Semple, Colton achieved a historic first in California history, the founding of a newspaper appropriately called the Californian on August 15, 1846. His account of printing the first number is a monument to resourcefulness. He modestly stated: “Though small in dimensions, our first number is as full of news as a black-walnut is of meat.”

      Writing earlier than the other great authors of the Gold Rush, J. D. Borthwick (q.v.), Bayard Taylor (q.v.), and Frank Marryat (q.v.), Colton left a breathtaking account of the placers in 1848 and early 1849 before the waves of gold seekers swamped the Sierra. His description of the first news of the gold discovery is unsurpassed. On May 29, 1848, he wrote: “Our town was startled out of its quiet dream to-day, by the announcement that gold had been discovered on the American Fork.” Early in June, Colton dispatched a messenger to see what all the excitement was about and the messenger came back on June 20 with yellow lumps in his pocket. This started the rush out of Monterey and inspired Colton to compose one of the most memorable quotes of the Gold Rush: “The blacksmith dropped his hammer, the carpenter his plane, the mason his trowel, the farmer his sickle, the baker his loaf, and the tapster his bottle. All were off for the mines, some on horse, some on carts, and some on crutches, and one went in a litter.” Gold fever had struck, and in short order his town was deserted. Colton himself made a tour of the mines in October and November and met R. B Mason and W. T. Sherman on the Stanislaus River. Throughout his text are electric descriptions of those heady early days when gold could be simply picked off the ground. Demonstrating his rhythmic prose style, Colton made the following observation of the Argonauts on November 8, 1848: “Such a mixed and motley crowd—such a restless, roving, rummaging, ragged multitude, never before roared in the rockeries of man.”

      Three Years in California was the sequel to his Deck and Port (1850). Colton corrected the final proofs for this momentous book in March 1850. He then fell ill and died on January 22, 1851. The preface is dated Philadelphia, July 1850. Colton dedicated the book to that great Californio, Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo. The humorous etchings, not found in later editions, are in keeping with Colton’s wit. Three Years in California received glowing reviews upon publication. The Washington Republic wrote: “While the reader is instructed on every page, he will laugh about a hundred if not a thousand times before he gets through this captivating volume.”

      Anticipating brisk sales and future printings, the book was printed with stereotyped plates by Richard C. Valentine of New York. Barnes & Company reprinted the title in 1851, 1852, 1854, 1856, 1859, and 1860. The Land of Gold, published in 1860 by D. W. Evans & Company simply reprinted the earlier work using the stereotyped plates.


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