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October 26, 2007

First Large Bird’s-Eye View of Placerville

20. [BIRD’S-EYE VIEW]. KUCHEL, [Charles Conrad] & [Emil] Dresel (artists) & [Joseph] Britton & [Jacques Joseph] Rey (lithographers). Placerville, El Dorado County. [below lower neat line] Printed by Britton & Rey | Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1856 by Davis & Roy, in the Clerk’s Office of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Drawn from Nature & on Stone by Kuchel & Dresel 176 Clay St S F. [San Francisco: Davis & Roy, ca. 1856]. Lithograph on buff-toned ground, original applied white highlights, image within beige frame border (upper corners rounded). Image only: 30.3 x 51.5 cm. Image including title and text below: 34.5 x 52.2 cm. Image area including frame border: 31.2 x 52.2 cm. Overall sheet size: 37.5 x 54.1 cm. Closed, consolidated tears at center right (one extending through bottom third of print, but no losses). Left, right, and top margins trimmed, but not affecting image or border. Otherwise very good, image crisp. Professionally stabilized and restored. Provenance: Henry M. Newhall (1825-1882), rancher and railroad promoter. See Hart, Companion to California.

            This is the first large view of Placerville. Reps, Views and Viewmakers of Urban America #188 (version with vignettes is Reps #187). Greenwood, California Imprints 1833-1862, Appendix A (Copyrights), p. 489 (#93). Peters, California on Stone, p. 145. Watson, California in the Fifties, Plate 21. Within Reps’ sequence of Placerville views, Kuchel & Dresel’s prints are preceded by a letter-sheet view: Placerville (Hangtown) El Dorado... dated 1851 (Reps #186; Baird, California Pictorial Letter Sheets #203). Baird lists three other letter-sheet views of Placerville; see #202 (undated), #310 (undated) and #311 (1853).

            Placerville, in modern-day El Dorado County, was settled in 1848 when ranchero William Daylor came to the area from Sutter’s Fort. Known variously as Dry Diggings and Hangtown, the town prospered, especially after the rich ore strike in Nevada City, which turned it into a major supply point for traffic and supplies going east. The name Hangtown was earned in 1849, when three men were hanged in town after an impromptu trial; the town was never known formally by that name. The view here shows a fairly sanitized community of regular streets, trim buildings, and a pristine landscape. However, as Dr. James S. Holliday points out, such views are rarely realistic. He remarks, “Most surviving views of mining towns and camps were drawn by artists and reproduced on lettersheets and invariably show neat buildings and clean streets-attractive versions of New England villages,” an image belied by the photograph that Dr. Holliday also reproduces showing the town (Rush for Riches: Gold Fever and the Making of California, p. 162). The present lithograph is particularly important because the town was virtually destroyed this same year by a fire in early July, one of three that would occur in 1856. Thus, the view is of a town that was wiped out shortly after this image was published. ($10,000-20,000)

Sold. Hammer: $14,000.00; Price Realized: $16,450.00

Auction 21 Abstracts

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