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Lot 95

“A pungent, graphic record of the long trip to and from the gold fields”—Wheat

95. [LETTS, John 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 Golden 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, publisher’s original blindstamped gilt-pictorial plum cloth (illustration of miner on covers and spine). Spine faded, slightly shelf slanted, moderate shelf wear, interior and plates very fine and fresh with only occasional mild spotting. Early ink stamp of Henry C. Johnson on front flyleaf.


[Frontispiece]: Port of San Francisco, From a sketch by G. W. Casilear.

Chagres from the anchorage, Feb. 14th 1849.

Interior of the castle, at Chagres.

Entrance to the River Chagres.

Preparing breakfast on the Chagres River.

Passing a rapid, on Chagres river.

New Granadean mother.

Battery, Panama.

Grand Cathedral, Panama.

The Islands, from Panama.

Sutter, 3 miles below Sac City.

Encampment at Sac City, Nov. 1849. My own tent.

Sutter’s Fort 1849.

Rear of Sutter’s Fort, during the Spring months.

Between Sacramento and the mines.

Author and artist.

Teamsters breakfasting. on the road to the Mines.

Mormon Bar, on the North Fork, American River.

J. C. Tracy and myself “prospecting.”

South Fork, American River.

Sutter’s Mill, Coloma, the spot where the gold was first found.


The Yankees house at Hang Town So much lower than their heads that they had to crawl in and double up like jack knives.

Placer Ville, (Hang Town).

White Oak Spring.

Looking down the Big Canon.

The Plains near Sac City in the Flowery Season.

Sacramento City, From the foot of J Street.

St. Lucas, Lower California (Looking Northwest)

Coast of Lower California, Showing the Peculiarity of the Sky

Santa Barbara, Upper California.

Mission House at Santa Barbara.

St. Lucas, Lower California (Looking East)


Market place, Acapulco.

Baraco Realejo.

Church in Shinandagua [sic].

Batheing [sic] and washing corn, at Chinandaga [sic].

Harbour of Realajo [sic].

Our arrival at Masaya.

Breakfasting on Shore, Nicaragua Lake.

San Carlos, Nicaragua Lake at the entrance of the San Juan River.

San Juan de Nicaragua.

The Harbour at San Juan, Nicaragua.

Castle at Acapulco.

Panama, from the battery, Cerro Lancon in the background.

Chagres, from the Castle, looking down. 1851.

Coaling Up Kingston, Jamaica.

     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. Cf. Hill II:1015. Cf. Howell, California 50:603. Howes L300. Littell 641. Norris 2055. Peters, California on Stone, pp. 97, 103-105 (John Cameron and George W. Casilear). Rocq 15917. Sabin 40723. Vail, Gold Fever, p. 20. Wheat, Books of the California Gold Rush 125n. 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.

Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 398e:

Letts left New York on the bark Marrietta on January 27, 1849, headed for Chagres. In Panama City, he boarded the Niantic and arrived in San Francisco on July 4. From there, he went to Sacramento, Mormon Island, and other points. Drawing on his personal experience, Letts produced one of the best accounts of gambling, violence, and life in the mines. On November 22, Letts departed for Sacramento and, shortly thereafter, headed to Central America. In his note to the readers, Letts wrote: “A season’s residence in the mineral regions enabled me to obtain a correct interior view of life in California.” Letts added to his narrative the text of the new California Constitution.

      George V. Cooper, Lett’s traveling companion and New York artist, drew the illustrations that embellish this work. His scenes, reproduced as forty-eight tinted lithographs, document the journey across Panama, San Francisco, Sacramento, life in the mines, and Central America. Cooper again drew all the illustrations for A Pictorial View. The appearance of this illustrated work, however, did not impress the editors of the San Francisco Alta California. On June 30, 1852, the Alta wrote that, from the house of Cooke & LeCount: “We have received a copy of a new `California Book,’...full of spiritless plates and contains the usual quantity of incidents in the life of a gold adventurer, all of the usual quality. It is the production of a `Returned Californian,’ and is got up with some pretensions of beauty.” The first issue included Letts’ name on the copyright page and not the title page and a dedication to Miss Hetta P. Letts. According to Graff, another printing that same year inserted Letts’ name on the title page. R. T. Young, the “successor to W. Holdredge,” included the following in the advertising matter of his first Letts’ imprint: “48 superfine tinted lithographs, full size of the page. 8vo, cloth, 324 [224] pages. Price $2.00 cloth, $2.50 full gilt. Illustrated by George V. Cooper.” The contents of the 1853 second edition are identical. As Cowan points out: “There was evidently a deficiency in the supply of engravings [lithographs] prepared; for the number varies greatly.”


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