Rare Texas Pictorial Letter Sheet with Camels & Alamo

With Letter re Speculation & High Finance

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213. [LETTER SHEET: TEXAS]. PENTENRIEDER, Erhard. Main Plaza San Antonio, Texas, 185 [below view] Drawn after Nature by Erhard Pentenrieder. Published by Pentenrieder & Blersch, San Antonio, Tex. [long oval illustration at top, center view of the west side of the Main Plaza showing San Fernando Cathedral (constructed from 1738-1749) with a milling crowd, horse-drawn covered wagon, oxen-drawn cart, horses, and camels] Main Plaza San Antonio, Texas; [6 vignettes descending from upper left, the lower five bordered with ornate botanical circle]: untitled standing Native American with bow; Mission San Jose; Mission Conception [with Black man reclining on border); Menger Hotel [with bear reclining on border]; Free Mason Hall [with snake entwined on border]; untitled trotting camel with driver; [6 vignettes descending from upper right, the lower five bordered with ornate botanical circle]: untitled standing vaquero in full regalia; Alamo; Mission San Juan [sitting on border is a Davy Crockett-type hunter wearing a fringed jacket and holding a musket, his dog sitting beside him]; German Casino [with jaguar crouched on border]; untitled view of a rider lassoing a cow [alligator with bared teeth on border]; untitled muleteer with whip. Fancy illustrated lithograph letter sheet on two conjugate leaves, oval view at top: 5 x 16.5 cm; view with title and imprint: 5.3 x 16.5 cm; lithograph image including vignettes on left and right: 27.6 x 21.5 cm; overall sheet size 29.2 x 24.5 cm. San Antonio, n.d. [ca. 1859]. With a legible autograph letter signed, in ink and in English, on three pages, from S.P. Gambia to “Friend Fotts” dated July 1, 1866 (transcription below), discussing high finance, politics in post-Civil War Texas, and guns. Creased where formerly folded, lightly wrinkled, minor fold splits (no losses), overall very good. Copies located: Amon Carter Museum (Fort Worth); Witte Museum (San Antonio); University of Texas (Austin).

     California is blessed with hundreds of nineteenth-century letter sheets, but only a few exist for Texas. Ron Tyler in his unpublished study of nineteenth-century Texas lithographs comments on this historic Texas lithograph, which is based on Thielepape’s original letter sheet (ca. 1855-1856), likely the first lithograph view of Texas made in Texas (see illustration in our Auction 21: Thielepape’s view had a different version of the Main Plaza and no vignettes, Tyler states that both Pentenrieder and Hermann Lungkwitz (ca. 1867) based their letter sheets on Thielepape’s and added vignettes. Tyler:

Erhart Pentenrieder (1830-1875), an immigrant from Munich, Bavaria, owned and operated an art supply and stationery store in San Antonio during the 1850s. He operated a general merchandise business...during the ’60s, handling toys, perfumes, musical instruments, and other “fancy goods”.... What appears to be a second edition of his letter sheet contains a number of changes, including an effort to capitalize on one of the more colorful local events. A picture of a group of camels in the plaza is, no doubt, a reference to the camel corps that the War Department brought to Texas between 1856 and 1859 to experiment with them for desert transportation. Other changes: the Menger Hotel (opened in January, 1859) replaced the old Courthouse, a man riding a camel replaced the man on a burro, and the Free Mason’s Hall was added to the left side; on the right side, the German Casino (opened in 1858) replaced the Mexican jacal, and the man on the burro was added below the man roping a steer. Such internal evidence seems to indicate that the sheet was published sometime around 1859, when the Menger opened.

     Tyler, in his book Prints and Printmakers of Texas (TSHA, 1997) notes that “Pentenrieder used Thielepape’s San Antonio letterhead idea but elaborated upon it considerably. Pentenrieder published at least three different versions of his own fancy San Antonio letter sheets” (p. 34). Tyler further comments that “After the Civil War, the American government found the Texas Germans useful. Since many of them had objected to secession and had not served in the Confederate army or government, they were often among the few Texans able to take the ‘ironclad oath’ and thus, among the only male citizens eligible to hold offices in the Reconstruction government. The San Antonio Germans suddenly emerged as powerful members of the community. Their predominance in the city’s government earned them the derogatory title of ‘Casino Aristocrats,’ since of many of them belonged the exclusive social club [pictured in the present letter sheet].... Erhard Pentenrieder [served] as a city alderman” (p. 38).

     The camels shown in two illustrations on the letter sheet document one of the colorful episodes in Texas history which ultimately failed. Believing Texas to be part of “the Great American Desert,” Senator Jefferson Davis in 1855 urged the War Department to use camels as pack animals in the Southwest and Texas. By the summer of 1856, thirty-two camels arrived in Texas by ship in Indianola Texas. Ultimately the camel experiment failed, not due to the camels’ endurance as a pack animal, but rather the nature of the beasts which led to their demise. They smelled ghastly, frightened horses, and were hated by their handlers, who preferred docile mules. Still, sometimes on a clear night in West Texas, you can see a camel racing across the plains in the moonlight.

     The letter sheet is a fine example of Texas lithography, and the letter on it is an excellent indication of the vibrancy and wheeling and dealing that marked the Reconstruction era in Texas. The writer, S.P. Gambia (1814-1890) was Postmaster at San Antonio at the time, and involved in various speculative schemes. Later, in the 1870s he was busy promoting internationally the native Cañaigre root of San Antonio (containing tannic acid) for tanning. In the 1880s Gambia served as Customs Inspector in El Paso. Gambia refers to “the National Bank scheme” and the “Park Bank” (The National Park Bank was founded in 1856 in New York City, and by the late nineteenth century did more commercial business than any other bank in the U.S., eventually acquiring the Wells Fargo Company). Several times in discussing the deal (possibly a railroad scheme), Gambia mentions George W. Brackenridge (1832-1920), the venerable citizen of San Antonio known for his business acumen and philanthropy (see Handbook of Texas Online). Gambia mentions other persons of note he wishes to be involved in the venture, such as General Francis E. Spinner (U.S. Treasurer at the time); John C. French (ca. 1820s-1889, businessman and promoter and president of the San Antonio and Mexican Gulf Railway, which finally had its startup in 1865-1866, but went belly up in 1869); and J.H. Hartley (noteworthy for a case involving Hartley’s purchase of property for $45,000 in Confederate money at the end of the Civil War, but his Confederate money proved to be worthless). There is also mention of post-Civil War politics and the need for guns just over the Mexican Border. Transcription as follows:

July 12th. 1866.

Friend Fotts

I received your very welcome letter of the 28th May, and have also to acknowledge receipt of certain newspapers printed in central New York, all of which proved interesting as even the advertisements are read with avidity being many of them made by old acquaintances from whom I hear in no other way. I hope you get the Texas newspapers I send you & only hope they may prove equally as interesting as those you send me. I have delayed replying to your letter from day to day in expectation that something would turn up in relation to that National Bank scheme that would interest you. I have not heard from J.C. French directly but I learned from Mr. Florian & his agent here that his Rail Road gives him so much trouble and absorbs so much of his ready cash that he has concluded for the present to give it the go by and let others take the first chance.

I learned that G.W. Brackenridge of Texas, who was north at the time had secured the first chance, and have been awaiting his return here before addressing you again on the subject. Mr. B. has come and the Bank matter has been arranged. The stock has been subscribed. I have taken ten shares and my son has taken over ten shares. Mr. B. would have had me as one of the Directors, but it was necessary I found for Directors to swear to certain things which I could not swear to because of old business matters at the north and so I did not care to avail myself of the chance. We have a very good board of Directors all of unquestionable loyalty. Brackenridge himself will be President but as yet they are without a Cashier. I have recommended our J.J. Fotts a mutual friend of ours and have had it understood that he should have stock to the amt. of $20,000 if he wishes. I have promised that you will meet Mr. Brackenridge either at Washington (at the Ebbett House where he stops when in the city) or in New York City No. 65 Fourth St. Office of Smith & Dunning. It would be well if you could be at Washington when Brackenridge is there and bring to bear upon him such influences as your acquaintance with Gen [Francis E.] Spinner [Treasurer of the United States] today and will suggest his recommending you as the man—the right man for the place. Brackenridge is not himself acquainted with Banking and must needs have a good man to lean upon. He was for a time in the Loan Division of the Treasury and has served as special agent for the Treasury Department in Tex and while his office was at Brownsville my son was with him. I think he is a relation of Graham, Register of the Treasury Department. He seems to have money. I saw a certificate from the Park Bank of N.Y. stating that he had deposited there $100,000. Like all Southerners he likes to be associated with Northern men. He left here only a day or two since and goes straight to Washington where I trust you will meet him as I very much wish you to spend the next winter in San Antonio, as I doubt not the climate will suit you and here you can put money in your purse,

I shall send Gen. Spinner under cover to Mr. Brackenridge care of J.H. Hartley Asst. Sect. of the Treasury & so promised him. My son William has suffered himself to be seen as a candidate for the Texas Legislature and supposed himself elected though it will be a close race. The conservative ticket though has carried nearly everywhere in the state. I hope another Election will be ordered of which there is some chance.

I must close now with Respects to old friends not forgetting the Messrs Rosbach &c. &c.—by the by Rosbach has a son who should come south before another winter.

I think Remmingtons [i.e., Remingtons] would do well to establish an agency here for sale of their fire arms. I think my son would like to attend to the sale of their wares—and just over the border of Mexico they need guns & pistols. I have not yet sent in my P.O. returns, and therefore am too much hurried to write plainly. I must not omit to mention that Mrs. G. cannot send respects for the reason that I have sent her & Master Eddy up to Boerne, among the mountains to spend this month.

I am, Very Truly Yours. S.P. Gambia.


Auction 23 Abstracts

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