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Rare Steel-Engraved Panorama of San Francisco in the Seventies

112. [SAN FRANCISCO]. HESS, Fredrick. San Francisco – California. Frederick Hess Publisher [lower right] Entered according to act of congress in the year 1874 by Frederick Hess in the office of the librarian of congress Washington D.C. N.p., 1874. Steel-engraved panoramic view surrounded by 22 vignettes of landmarks (list below), on heavy paper, original delicate hand coloring. Overall sheet: 31 x 68 cm; image with title: 27.5 x 62.3 cm. Margins trimmed but ample, very lightly toned, good strong impression with especially beautiful, restrained hand coloring, nearly fine overall. Very rare.

Central panoramic view:

San Francisco. 12.8 x 45 cm. (engraving and title)

Vignettes of landmarks (clockwise from top left, measuring engraving and title):

Nevada Block. 4.8 x 7.8 cm.

Calvary Church. 4.8 x 3.7 cm.

Sansome Street. 4.8 x 3.7 cm.

Palace Hotel. 4.8 x 7.4 cm.

City Hall. 4.8 x 13.1 cm.

Grand Hotel. 4.8 x 7.5 cm.

London & S. Fr. Bank. 4.8 x 3.7 cm.

S. Mary’s Cathedral. 4.8 x 3.7 cm.

Cliff House. 4.8 x 7.8 cm.

Lick Hotel. 4.1 x 7.8 cm.

The White House. 4.1 x 7.8 cm.

Occidental Hotel. 4.4 x 7.8 cm.

Corner Geary and Kearny Street. 4.8 x 7.8 cm.

Corner First and Market Street. 4.8 x 7.8 cm.

California Street. 4.8 x 10.8 cm.

P.M.S.S. Co’s Wharf - Off for China and Japan. 4.8 x 6.9 cm.

Montgomery Street. 4.8 x 10.8 cm.

Mercantile Library - Bush Street. 4.8 x 7.2 cm.

California Street. Corner Sansome. 4.8 x 7.8 cm.

Oriental Block. 4.2 x 7.8 cm.

Murphy, Grant & Co’s Building - Sansome Street. 4.2 x 7.8 cm.

Russ House - Montgomery Street. 4.2 x 7.8 cm.

     Reps, Views & Viewmakers of Urban America 322 (locating two copies, Library of Congress, uncolored; Oakland Museum, unknown if colored). Although Baird & Evans (Historic Lithographs of San Francisco) illustrate this view, it is not described in their catalogue because it is a steel engraving rather than a lithograph. The view shows San Francisco as a sophisticated metropolis and cultural center in the seventies, during its phase of prodigious urban development after the Gold Rush and before the 1906 earthquake. At that time public and private architecture mushroomed, and old trails through sand dunes were replaced by extensive street improvements. Some of the vignettes show streets still with wooden planking. In addition to the expected horse-and-buggy mode of transportation, some of the vignettes illustrate horse-drawn omnibuses and street cars travelling on metal tracks. These horse-drawn street cars were the immediate precursor to the cable car and look like the earliest cable cars were it not for the horses pulling them (cable cars were first used on a trial run in August of 1873 and put into service in September of the same year). The central panorama of this large engraving is a lovely view of the city looking toward the Bay with the most prominent feature being St. Mary’s Church at left.

     Each of the twenty-two precisely engraved vignettes offers historical documentation of San Francisco architecture, and includes people engaged in various activities. The most vividly colored of the vignettes is P.M.S.S. Co’s Wharf - Off for China and Japan, depicting a teeming, boisterous international crowd of humanity, ranging from riff-raff to Victorian black silk top hat elegance. Included is a very serious fist fight and a goodly number of Chinese. This scene is in contrast to other scenes such as the serene view of the Cliff House made from high above on Alfred Sutro’s estate. Here the Cliff House is shown in its original 1863 modest version, before it was destroyed in 1896 and rebuilt in grandiose style. These vignettes are little jewels of history that reveal a great deal and deserve further study. It is astonishing to look at the engravings under magnification. If Hess was the engraver, he certainly was brilliant, accomplished, and very patient.

     Little is known of the creator of this rare engraving, remarkable for its technical proficiency, documentary value, and high aesthetic qualities. Baird does not provide any biographical information on Hess, nor do the standard sources such as Mantle Fielding, Peters, etc. Baird (California’s Pictorial Letter Sheets 232) records a letter sheet by Hess (see next entry in this catalogue). However, that letter sheet is an entirely different production, being similar to the present print in being steel engraved and with a central view of the city surrounded by vignettes of landmarks. But the central scene and the vignettes in the present larger print are not the same as those on the letter sheet, and here there are twenty-two vignettes. The letter sheet is printed on very thin paper, whereas the present engraving is printed on thick, high-quality paper. The letter sheet is uncolored, and the present print is colored. Hess apparently was a gentleman of enterprise and energy. The small letter sheet includes the statement: “Orders for engraving on steel promptly executed. Each image captioned.”

     We found only a few intriguing leads for possible identification of Frederick Hess. A person of that name, a San Francisco newspaperman, founded the La Jota Vineyard Company in Napa Valley in 1898. He served as editor of German-language newspapers in San Francisco, including California Demokrat, the oldest daily existing on the Pacific coast (purchased by Hess in 1858 when he was eighteen years of age). A Frederick Hess published Californischer Almanach für das Jahr 1900 (California Demokrat Publishing Co., 1899; UCLA holds a copy). The Bancroft Library has an archive of Civil War letters (1862-1865) from Frederick Christian Hess of the One Hundred and Fourth Regiment of Illinois Volunteer Infantry (1838-1916) to Tobitha Hess (1862-1865). The Bancroft also holds a complex graphic on a souvenir rose by Frederick Hess of San Francisco with 31 steel-engraved vignettes printed in Hamburg (date unknown, but Bancroft cataloguing suggests 186-?). That may well be the Rosetta Stone for pulling together Hess’ iconography of San Francisco. Tooley lists a surveyor by the name of F. Hess, who worked in the Midwest in the late 1850s, creating for instance, a map of Champaign County in Ohio in 1858. Interesting research awaits this excellent engraving. ($5,000-10,000)

Sold. Hammer: $5,000.00; Price Realized: $5,875.00

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