First Published Photographs of Death Valley
176. SPEARS, John R. Illustrated Sketches of Death Valley and Other Borax Deserts of the Pacific Coast. Chicago & New York: Rand, McNally & Company, Publishers, 1892. 226, [6, ads] pp., text illustrations (mostly photographic, some full page). 8vo, original brown cloth lettered in gilt on upper cover and spine. Moderate shelf wear, mild fraying of cloth (especially at extremities), front hinge starting (but holding), interior fine. Ink ownership inscription dated 1954 on front free endpaper.
First edition. Cowan II, p. 604. Edwards, Desert Treasure, p. 2; Enduring Desert, pp. 227-28: “Noted for its early photographs in almost the same degree as for its textual content. It is conceivable that these may be the first pictures ever published—perhaps ever taken—of the Death Valley region. Maximum importance attaches to them.... A book equally as distinguished as it is distinctive.... Death Valley’s number two book; and it will probably continue to remain so. Certainly no desert collection even merits the name without a copy of the Spears.” Graff 3926. Howes S821. Munk (Alliot), p. 206. Norris 3791. Paher, Nevada 1844: “Nevada item of prime importance.... Spears is the first trained writer-photographer to report upon desert developments. He writes with humor and drama about Death Valley and Nevada history and setting. There are chapters on sandstorms, personalities, tramps, prospectors, animals and insects, roads, desert fuels (hay, wood, etc.) and abandoned desert mining camps.... About five dozen rare views show desert life, buildings, workmen, and animals.... For research on the late nineteenth century, here is source material that cannot be overlooked. Easily the cornerstone of any desert collection, this book is quite scarce in the first edition.” Rocq 2339.
The emphasis is the borax industry, which Spears touts highly, but he manages to touch on a few feeble attempts at ranching in Death Valley’s arid, harsh environment, such as Furnace Creek Ranch and Greenland Ranch. He comments on the latter: “Perhaps had they been versed in Greenland lore, they might have called the ranch Ivigtut, for that is the Greenlander’s term for a green vale in a barren region. Anyhow, a green spot was, and is, the ranch in Death Valley, with its half-acre pond, its thirty acres of alfalfa and trees, its ’dobe house with a wide veranda and its running water on all sides. For five years the ranch and the works were run, beginning in 1883.” ($150-300)
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