“A pungent, graphic record of the long trip to and from the gold fields”—Peters

48 Lithographs on Toned Grounds, Including Early Views of California Towns

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214. LETTS, John M. California Illustrated: Including a Description of the Panama and Nicaragua Routes. By J.M. Letts. With Forty-Eight Illustrations. Second Thousand. New York: R.T. Young, 140 Fulton-Street, 1853. [i-v] vi-vii, [8-9] 10-224 [16, ads] pp., 48 lithograph plates (including frontispiece) on tinted grounds or duo-tone (views of Mexico, Central America, West Indies, and California, missions, scenes of the Gold Rush, several early town views) by John Cameron and George Victor Cooper (see plate list below). 8vo (23.3 x 15.7 cm), publisher’s blindstamped gilt-pictorial green cloth (illustration of miner on covers and spine). Ink gift inscription on front fly leaf, reading “John McCall, Jr. from Cousin Sarah Gould Sept. 1853.” Chipped at extremities with minor losses, slightly shelf-slanted, minor edge wear, top margin of lower cover wrinkled. Interior very fine, plates fresh.


Attributions to John Victor Cooper and John Cameron are below images. Most images approximately 12 x 19 cm; overall sheet size: 14 x 12 cm.

[Frontispiece] Part [sic] of San Francisco, From a Sketch by G. W. Casilear.

Chagres from the Anchorage, Feb. 14th 1849.

Interior of the Castle, at Chagres.

Entrance to the River Chagres.

Preparing Breakfast on the Chagres River.

Passing a Rapid, on Chagres River.

New Granadean Mother.

Battery, Panama.

Grand Cathedral, Panama.

The Islands, from Panama.

Sutter, 3 miles below Sac City.

Encampment at Sac City, Nov. 1849. My own tent.

Sutters Fort 1849.

Rear of Sutter’s Fort, during the Spring months.

Between Sacramento, and the Mines.

Author and Artist.

Teamsters Breakfasting. On the road to the Mines.

Mormon Bar, on the North Fork, American River.

J.C. Tracy and Myself “Prospecting.”

South Fork, American River.

Sutter’s Mill, Coloma, the spot where the Gold was first found.


The Yankees house at Hang Town So much lower than their heads that they had to crawl in and double up like jack knives.

Placer Ville, (Hang Town).

White Oak Spring.

Looking down the Big Canon.

The Plains near Sac City in the Flowery Season.

Sacramento City, From the Foot of J Street.

St. Lucas. Lower California (Looking Northwest).

Coast of Lower California, Showing the peculiarity of the Sky.

Santa Barbara, Upper California.

Mission House at Santa Barbara.

St. Lucas, Lower California (Looking East)

Market place, Acapulco.

Baraco Realejo.

Church in Shinandagua [sic].

Batheing [sic] and Washing Corn, at Chinandaga [sic].

Harbour of Realajo [sic].

Our Arrival at Masaya.

Breakfasting on Shore, Nicaragua Lake.

San Carlos, Nicaragua Lake at the entrance of the San Juan river.

San Juan de Nicaragua.

The Harbour at San Juan, Nicaragua.

Castle at Acapulco.

Panama, from the Battery, Cerro Lancon in the background.

Chagres, from the Castle, looking down. 1851.

Coaling Up Kingston, Jamaica.

     First edition, second printing (“Second Thousand”) of a “Choice and Timely Book,” as the publisher’s ad following p. 224 proudly declares. This work first appeared in 1852, followed by the present printing, and three more afterwards. Except for minor changes to title page, this version is identical to the first printing. Cowan I, p. 140. Cowan II, p. 390: “There was evidently a deficiency in the supply of engravings prepared, for the number varies greatly.” Graff 246. Hill I, p. 180: “The author embarked for California in January 1849. He sailed to Chagres and took the overland route to the Pacific.... He headed for the gold fields and worked at Mormon Bar and Auburn. Finding himself unlucky in this pursuit, he opened a store and did better in business.” Hill II:1015: “Fourth thousand, with only 12 plates”; 1016 (published by Henry Bill, 48 plates). Howell 50, California 604. Howes L300. Jones, Adventures in Americana (Checklist) 1281. Rocq 15916. Sabin 40722. Wheat, Books of the California Gold Rush 125.

     Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 398b (same as 398a with note that color may vary):

Letts left New York on the bark Marrietta on January 27, 1849, headed for Chagres. In Panama City, he boarded the Niantic and arrived in San Francisco on July 4. From there, he went to Sacramento, Mormon Island, and other points. Drawing on his personal experience, Letts produced one of the best accounts of gambling, violence, and life in the mines. On November 22, Letts departed for Sacramento and, shortly thereafter, headed to Central America. In his note to the readers, Letts wrote: “A season’s residence in the mineral regions enabled me to obtain a correct interior view of life in California.” Letts added to his narrative the text of the new California Constitution.

George V. Cooper, Lett’s traveling companion and New York artist, drew the illustrations that embellish this work. His scenes, reproduced as forty-eight tinted lithographs, document the journey across Panama, San Francisco, Sacramento, life in the mines, and Central America. Cooper again drew all the illustrations for A Pictorial View.... The first issue included Letts’ name on the copyright page and not the title page and a dedication to Miss Hetta P. Letts. According to Graff, another printing that same year inserted Letts’ name on the title page. R.T. Young, the “successor to W. Holdredge,” included the following in the advertising matter of his first Letts’ imprint: “48 superfine tinted lithographs, full size of the page. 8vo, cloth, 324 [224] pages. Price $2.00 cloth, $2.50 full gilt. Illustrated by George V. Cooper.” The contents of the 1853 second edition are identical. As Cowan points out: “There was evidently a deficiency in the supply of engravings [lithographs] prepared; for the number varies greatly.”

     Peters, California on Stone, pp. 97 (on Cameron): “Cameron was the brilliant lithographer—a hunchback and addicted to drink, who deserves much of the credit for the N. Currier and Currier & Ives horses, comics, and caricatures”; pp. 103-105 (on Cooper): “From 1849 to 1852 he was in California, traveling about the heart of the mining the working partner of J.M. Letts.... Cooper has left us a pungent, graphic record of the long trip to and from the gold fields, of the young cities he found mushrooming there, of booming San Francisco and Sacramento, of the lovely vestiges of the mission-founding padres in early California, and of the actual life of the Forty-niners, with its flavor of roughing it, humor, hope, and all the luring magic of the yellow streak.”

This book is one of the most readable and vividly illustrated works on the California Gold Rush. Both the narrative and the plates impart a wonderful immediacy. The plates have a fresh, on-the-spot quality, with marvelous little details, sometimes humorous, and at other times valuable for documenting social history in the Gold Rush, ethnic types, costume, etc. No detail is too small to omit. Some of the illustrations show the artist and the author, such as a view of the two at Sutter’s Fort. Many of the lithos are early views of California towns and cities. The large number of early city views makes this book more valuable, in our opinion, than what is has typically been sold for in the marketplace. The number of plates in the book is as important as the edition or issue, and the present copy has the complete complement of forty-eight lithos.


Sold. Hammer: $500.00; Price Realized: $612.50.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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