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Lot 125

“Fiat Justicia, Ruat Coelum”
Designed by Charles Nahl

125. [SAN FRANCISCO COMMITTEE OF VIGILANCE]. “Be Just and Fear Not.” Fiat Justicia, Ruat Coelum. Self Preservation, the First Law of Man [lower left in stone]: Designed & Drawn by Chas. Nahl [lower right in stone]: Lithy of Britton & Rey, S. F. [at lower center within stone]: Entered according to Act of Congress in the Year 1856 by Ch. Nahl & C. E. Lang in the Clerks Office of the U. S. District Court of the Northern District of Ca. San Francisco: Britton & Rey, [after May 15, 1856]. Lithographed form accomplished in manuscript and with Committee embossed seal, appointing Edward C. Nickels as member 6008 of the Committee; signed by William Coleman, Isaac Bluxome, Jules David, and Charles Doane. Title within banner, with elaborate border showing allegorical figures (such as miner’s tools), military scenes, and Fort Gunnybags at top. Image area: 44.5 x 35 cm; 7-1/2 x 13-3/4 inches; sheet size: 60 x 47.5 cm; 23-5/8 x 18-5/8 inches (untrimmed). Moderate spotting and water staining, several tears and small splits at folds consolidated by professional backing, with a few small voids, some in image area. Overall, an excellent copy of a remarkable survival.

     Eberstadt 159:175 (this copy). Peters, America on Stone, p. 110 & Plate XXI (illustrating a slightly different image with a different vignette at lower right and a different engraving of the certificate). Peters, California on Stone, pp. 81-82 (noting a copy printed on silk!). Cf. Hamilton, Early American Book Illustrators and Wood Engravers, pp. 190-192 (Nahl Brothers). Dr. Hart refers to Britton & Rey as the earliest lithographic firm west of the Rockies (Companion to California, p. 52).

     Going quiescent in 1851 after restoring some order in San Francisco by means of a few prominent lynchings, the Committee of Vigilance roared back to life on May 14, 1856, following the back-to-back murders of William H. Richardson by Charles Cora and of James King of William by James Casey. A few days after they reorganized, they seized Cory and King from jail, tried them, and hanged them both publicly together on May 22. On August 18, the Committee again disbanded. This form is an indication of the continuing violence and lawlessness that plagued California as the world rushed in. The first Vigilance Committee was organized in San Francisco in 1851 during the Gold Rush to try and punish speedily robberies and arson by the Sydney Ducks. ($1,500-3,000)

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