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Inventory of the Swanlund-Baker Photograph Collection, ca 1904-1925
F868 H8 S848  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Guide To Item Level Description
  • Bibliography

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Swanlund-Baker Photograph Collection,
    Date (inclusive): ca 1904-1925
    Collection number: F868 H8 S848
    Creator: Baker, Ray Jerome
    Extent: 1001 items
    Repository: Humboldt State University Library.
    Arcata, CA 95521
    Shelf location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the library's online catalog.
    Abstract: The Swanlund-Baker Collection depicts a wide variety of everyday northwest California scenes and activities from the early twentieth century. Lumber industry, tanbark industry, flower nurseries, city and village street scenes, schools, portraits, parks, ships, shipbuilding, shipwrecks, and rivers are the featured subjects of this collection. The primary photographer represented is Ray Jerome Baker who lived in Humboldt County from 1904-1910. Images from this collection can be found at: http://library.humboldt.edu/humco/ /infoservices/humco/holdings/swanlund.htm 
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to the Humboldt State University Library. To obtain permission to publish or reproduce, please contact the Special Collections Librarian.


    This project was supported in part by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the State Librarian.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Swanlund-Baker Photograph Collection, Humboldt State University Library

    Acquisition Information

    Gifted to Humboldt State University in 1985 and 1991 by Samuel Harper Swanlund with a small addition in 2000 by Peter Palmquist.


    Ray Jerome Baker (1880 - 1972) worked as a self-employed photographer in Humboldt County from 1904 until sometime in 1910. In that year Baker and his family, wife, Edith Frost Baker, and son, Earl Frost Baker, made Hawaii their permanent home. Baker continued as a professional photographer and became renowned for his documentary and promotional images of Hawaii. He retired from active photography and public speaking in 1959. His life story is told in two books: Odyssey Of A Cameraman and Hawaiian Yesteryears: Historical Photographs. He is the author of several additional books, principally about Hawaii. The Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii ( www.bishop.hawaii.org ) has an extensive collection of Baker's images. This biographical sketch will focus on what is known of his time in Humboldt County.
    In addition to the six years that R.J. Baker resided in Humboldt County he returned for visits to his in-laws and friends, and speaking engagements in 1915, and possibly in 1934 and 1947. He most certainly took photographs on these occasions as well as when he lived here. Mrs. Frost and her family owned property just east of Briceland and near Miranda, giving Baker a "home base" in southern Humboldt County during the time he lived here and his subsequent visits. Aside from the excellent quality of Baker's photographs his images of southern Humboldt County are his unique contribution to this region's early 20th century historical record.
    In Eureka, Baker set up business in a tent before buying Ed Chase's upstairs studio on the corner of 5th and F streets. During the next few years he moved his studio a few times but always remained in downtown Eureka. By 1908 he was working out of a studio at 825 E St. In February of that same year the Baker family vacationed in Hawaii, and found it very much to their liking. In August Baker was charged with taking obscene pictures for which his name appeared several times in the Eureka Herald. He posted bail of $100 and then paid the fine of $50.
    In 1906 Baker posed with a group of Socialist Party members on the steps of the Humboldt County Courthouse (see image # 1999.01.0353).
    Baker had more than a passing acquaintance with Jack London. They shared outings and adventures after Baker moved to Hawaii but their relationship dates back to the time Baker lived in Eureka. In a short letter from London to Baker (probably sent in early 1911, before London knew that Baker had permanently left Eureka.), London informs Baker that he plans to drop by his Eureka studio the next June. London goes on to say that he and Mrs. London will be driving up to the coast of Oregon and then over to Nevada. (A photocopy of this letter is in the Palmquist Collection.)
    From Baker's manuscript memoir, Odyssey Of A Cameraman, and from a 1959 letter he wrote to Dorothy Fletcher of Miranda we have Baker's own recollections about his time in Humboldt County. Included below are an excerpt from his memoir and the text of the letter. While the letter is a bit lengthy it is useful for its information about Baker's activities while in northern California and his comments on his career just at the time that he was giving up active work.
    Odyssey Of A Cameraman, p.9.
    ....I soon found an opportunity for outside photographic work. Men working in the logging operations liked pictures of themselves at their day-to-day work. Groups of them posed before their donkey engines, beside the skid roads, or as choppers beside a big redwood tree they were about to fall. I employed a girl to look after the studio during my absence and soon found myself busily engaged in the outside work. Later I purchased a motor cycle which aided materially in getting about the country. On it I made forays into the far reaches of Humboldt County, sometimes even outside. My interest in outside work did not, however, preclude portrait and studio work inside. I became friendly with the local theater man, a relationship which resulted in considerable numbers of theater people coming to my studio for pictures. They expected low prices, but were always wanting more pictures. Stock companies sent their leading ladies and various members to be photographed. It should be point out that motion pictures had not yet assumed a leading role in public entertainment. Marguerita Fisher was a very charming young woman who headed her own company. She was still quite young and apparently unmarried, for her mother traveled and looked after her. Auda Due, obviously an assumed name, played opposite her husband, Pietro Sosso, a fine man and a fine actor of Italian ancestry....
    Letter from Ray Jerome Baker to Mrs. Dorothy Fleckner
    R.J. Baker, Photographer,

    Publisher of Fine Books

    1911 Kalakaua Avenue,

    Honolulu, 15 Hawaii.
    March 3, 1959
    Mrs Dorothy Fleckner,

    Forest of Arden,

    Miranda, California.
    Thank you for your letter of February 17 which reached me last week. I agree with you that something ought to be done about the Log House but the matter is entirely out of my hands. I put a lot of loving care and effort into building the place (and hard earned money too) but the land was always in Mrs Baker's name, after the death of her mother about 1913, and after her own death she willed it to my son, Earl Frost Baker. So he is the complete owner of the property now. There is not much I can do about it, except perhaps turn your letter over to him for any action or attention he chooses to give to it.
    I am enclosing a few old pictures in this letter which may be of interest to you. Back in the early 1900's I had a motorcycle and used to go into the back country making pictures I used to visit Briceland, Garberville and Shelter Cove. On occasion such as July 4th they would have celebrations and the Indian people would come out. It was on such an occasion that I made these of some of the Indian people who turned out. They were study folks with simple lives and primitive living conditions, and I believe, on the whole, well behaved. I was told that the hard looking woman sitting in the cart (also a close-up of her) was pretty hard-boiled and earlier in life had "killed a man." This was a rather vague statement, and I do not know whether or not it was true.
    Shelter Cove in those days was a shipping point for tan oak bark. The wagon teams brought the bark in from the various valleys and gulches where it had been peeled, and dried. Peeling tan bark had to take place in the spring time when the tan-oak trees were full of sap. In the village of Briceland was a plant for processing the bark. The Wagner Leather Company, which had its main plant and tannery in Stockton took bark at its Briceland plant. Here it was ground up and put through a soaking or leeching process and the liquor or tannin solution was evaporated in a vacuum boiler to the consistance [sic] of a heavy syrup. Then it was put in heavy barrels and the concentrated tannin solution was shipped to the tannery in Stockton, by way of boats from Shelter Cove. Briceland was a busy place, especially in summer.
    Mr Frost, my father-in-law, had great faith in the Briceland region as having possibilities for oil wells. For many years natural gas was burned in several of the places in the town of Briceland. I have had no information in recent years, but gas may, insofar as I know, still be piped into some of the places in the village. In Shelter Cove the boats that came in carried both the dried tan bark and the tan bark extract which was in barrels. For a time there was a light oil rig on a farm near the village, in which Mr Frost was interested. I think their drilling rig was too light and too poorly financed to accomplish much, and nothing came of it.
    Quite early in Humboldt history and well beyond my own time, Mr Frost and his brother-in-law, one of the Dale brothers, (Mrs Frost was a Dale) were in partnership in a sheep ranch. It was in the hills and not too far from Briceland. I suspect the wild cats and the bears too liked young lamb pretty well and I am not sure that they made a very great success of their sheep ranch venture. Anyway they gave it up, and I am sure that doing politics and selling life insurance was found by Mr Frost to have been a more profitable occupation.
    I recall very well being in Briceland on one Fourth of July. I shared my hotel room with a young lawyer who had been booked to make the patriotic speech of the day. We had arrived two or three days before the big event came off, and in the seclusion of our room he demonstrated for me his abilities as a speech maker. There was much drunkiness [sic] in the town and our erstwhile speech maker felt the necessity of a little stimulent [sic] and in fact had too much, so I cannot say that his July 4th speech was an unqualified success. There was quite a considerable group of Indians from the surrounding country and most of the villagers turned out. As a further part of the program there was the reading of the Declaration of Independence. In fact I think this reading preceeded [sic] the speech making. If you have not read the Declaration in recent years, you should do so, for I am sure you will agree that the public reading of the document could qualify one as being subversive and a dangerous communist, by present day jittery standards.
    One thing about the old timers was that they did their best to be self-sufficient. They had to do so. They raised poultry, made garden, raised their own potatoes, kept milk cows, kept pigs - the last allowed to run wild and especially to get fat on the acorns in the fall. Bacon fattened on acorns was supposed to be tops. There was no power equipment - only hand tools, the scythe, the hoe, the axe, the draw-knife and the tool for making shakes. A team of horses furnished the power. Old timers have told me of the days when the county road ended in Dyerville and the rest of the way up the valley had to be done with a four horse team over the river-bar. It was a painful process to get the needed supplies in from the outside. The old timers always had their shooting irons and killed deer when they needed meat. Some of them raised a little grain, feed for their horses, and some had their thrashing floor where horses were driven round and round to tramp the grain out.
    My primary objective in writing this time was to acknowledge recipt [sic] of your letter. Since I first visited Honolulu in 1908, I had planned to give up photographic work in California, and have never regreted [sic] my change. I have been around the world; visited over fifty countries; been to Europe three times; to Australia, New Zealand, most of the countries of South America, Alaska, Tahiti, Samoa, Fiji, Egypt, the Holy Land. I do not know when I will be in Humboldt - Miranda to be explicit - again, but I will indeed be happy to meet you and your husband, Mr Flecker.
    Sincerely, [signed]

    Ray Jerome Baker

    Scope and Content

    The Swanlund-Baker Collection (Accession # 1999.01.) depicts a wide variety of everyday northwest California scenes and activities from the early twentieth century. Lumber industry, tanbark industry, flower nurseries, city and village street scenes, schools, portraits, parks, ships, shipbuilding, shipwrecks, and rivers are the featured subjects of this collection. The number and variety of images from southern Humboldt County make this collection especially noteworthy. The primary photographer represented is Ray Jerome Baker. The inclusive date range is 1900-1960 with the bulk of the images dating from 1904-1925.
    Samuel Harper Swanlund (b. 1931) donated the major portion of the collection (954 images) to the Humboldt State University Library in two groups, one in 1985 and another in 1991. Peter Palmquist donated 47 additional glass plate negatives in 2000. Photographer Ray Jerome Baker's work is represented in about 65% of the collection. All of the images donated by Mr. Palmquist are attributed to Baker. The content of the Baker images from both donors is very similar and some images were clearly taken at the same event/scene. The majority of the images donated in 1985 were by Baker whereas the 1991 donation contains images by an assortment of photographers, including Baker, McClosky, Francis, Ed Chase, G.W. Miller, and Oscar Swanlund, but in most instances the photographer is not identified.
    Mr. Swanlund obtained these images, which are from numerous sources, in the course of his professional photographic work and as a result of his growing interest in historical images. He followed his father in professional photography and for thirty-two years continued the family business, the Swanlund Photo Shop, in Eureka, CA. Sam Swanlund made prints of many of the images and often made them available to researchers and writers, thus many of these images have found their way into works published since the early 1970s. Mr. Swanlund has developed the art form of hand coloring reprints of historical photographs. His works are widely displayed in Humboldt County.
    Carl Christensen was the source of most, perhaps all, of the Baker images. Information from Sam Swanlund in 1997 indicates that Carl Christensen and Lloyd Stine jointly acquired images directly from Baker toward the end of Baker's long career. In the late 1960s Sam Swanlund purchased several hundred glass plate negatives from Christensen and Stine. Peter Palmquist, in 2000, recalled that he purchased his portion from Christensen in the 1970s.
    A significant portion (112 images) of the collection depicts the Cottage Gardens Nurseries, a business that flourished in Humboldt County from about 1914 to about 1925. Charles Willis Ward was the creator and principal owner of this nursery. The images, marked with a number that begins with "W," show the many activities that took place at four principal locations: McKinleyville, Eureka (Myrtletown and C Street), and along the VanDuzen River in the Carlotta/Yager Creek area. Interiors and exteriors of greenhouses, fields of plants, close-ups of flowers and bulbs, and bird's eye views of landscapes are the major categories of these images. The photographer is unidentified. The estimated date range for this set of images is 1914-1925.
    New contact prints and new copy negatives were made for a portion of the collection between 1985 and 1990 using HSU campus photographic services (1999.01.0001-.0369). New contact prints and copy negatives for the balance of the collection, and an item level inventory of the entire collection were made during 1999-2000. The glass plate negatives were retained and are now in permanent archival storage. The nitrate film negatives were not retained because the Humboldt State Library is not presently equipped to store nitrate negatives safely. Images 1999.01.0001-.0628 are from Swanlund (1985), 1999.01.0629-.0915 and 1999.01.0964-.1001 are from Swanlund (1991), and 1999.01.0916-.0963 are from Palmquist (2000).

    Guide To Item Level Description

    Descriptive information about each image has been entered into an Access database. Information entered into the database was taken from the image itself, the wrappers/envelopes that accompanied about one half of the negatives, information supplied by Sam Swanlund, and the archivist's knowledge of the region, as follows:
    Titles were taken from the image itself, the envelope, or were supplied by the project archivist. Many of the envelopes came from R. J. Baker's studio, but other envelopes were new ones supplied by subsequent owners. The newer envelopes usually had titles or descriptions that had been supplied by personnel at the Swanlund Studio during the time that Sam Swanlund owned the collection. It is unknown whether the titles supplied by Swanlund Studio were transcribed from original envelopes. Some original envelopes also have information supplied by the Swanlund Studio. All descriptive information on the envelopes was recorded and a few obvious misspellings were corrected. Titles not directly attributable to the photographer's studio are bracketed [ ]. Swanlund Studio information is indicated by [ /ss], and if the source of the title is unknown it is indicated by [ /unknown]. In a few instances R.J. Baker's studio titled an image by another photographer. Baker's initials follow these titles [ /rjb]. The titles created by the project archivist during processing are simply bracketed: [ ].
    Identified photographers include Ray Jerome Baker, McClosky, Francis, Ed Chase, G.W. Miller, and Oscar Swanlund.
    Photographer's Number:
    These numbers appear on the negative. All but two of the Cottage Gardens images have a "W" preceding the number.
    Most of the images are undated. Information on the image or on the envelope is the source of the date. If the date was not exactly specified the estimated year is followed by a "?".
    Physical description and dimensions:
    This refers to the original negative. Black and white is abbreviated as "b&w". Dimensions are given in inches.
    Subject terms and geographical place names were drawn primarily from lists already in use in the Library's Humboldt County Collection. When necessary new subject terms were added using Place Names of Humboldt County, California by Dennis Turner, Library of Congress Subject Headings and Thesaurus for Graphic Materials (1995) by the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress.
    To assist users in locating images from broad geographic areas a region designation has been assigned. Numerical values are given to nine areas of Humboldt County, defined primarily by watershed, and eight values are given to describe other geographical locations:
    This region categorization is also used in other photographic collections both at the HSU Library and at the Humboldt County Historical Society. A map portraying these regions is accessible at http://library.humboldt.edu/humco/ /infoservices/humboldt.jpg .
    To facilitate use of the collection view copies of each image have been grouped into a blend of geographic and subject categories and placed in binders which are available in the HSU Library Humboldt Room. When the location of a scene is unknown decisions on which binder to place it in were guided by educated guesses. Users should consult the individual records for the most reliable information about geographic location. Unfortunately the time constraints of the project did not allow for additional research. Any corrections or additional information regarding the collection are invited and should be made to the Special Collections Librarian at the Humboldt State University Library.
    Edith Butler, C.A.

    December 2000


    Publications containing photographs that are in this collection and that were published during the early 20th century include:
    1. The Californian. Souvenir Edition, v. 25, 1909; Special Edition, v.26, no. 13, 1910; Souvenir Edition, July 27, 1912; Supplement [no. 18, 1914?]. [Eureka, CA: California Pub. Co.].
    2. Humboldt County California Wants Your Factory. Eureka: Times Publishing Company, 1917.
    3. Ward, Charles Willis. Humboldt County: The Land Of Unrivaled Undeveloped Natural Resources On The Westernmost Rim Of The American Continent. [Eureka: Ward-Perkins-Gill Co.] 1915.
    Baker, Ray Jerome. Odyssey Of A Cameraman. [1986]. [unpublished manuscript, 153 pp.]
    ____________. Hawaiian Yesteryears: Historical Photographs. Honolulu: Mutual Publishing Company, 1982.
    Belcher Abstract & Title Co. Atlas of Humboldt County California. Eureka: Belcher Abstract & Title Co. 1921.
    Boda, Joyce. Pioneer Leather Tanners. Eureka: Eureka Printing Company, Inc., 1997.
    Burgess, Rebekah. "Humboldt County Through the Camera's Lens: Three Photographers, Three Views." Humboldt Historian. Fall 2000, pp. 24-36.
    Cook, Margarite Drucella. The Southern Humboldt Papers. 1997. [unpublished, 13 volumes & index]
    Christen, Arthur J. "My Yager Valley: Life in a Pioneer setting." Humboldt Historian. January-February, 1980, pp. 4-6.
    Eureka Herald. Eureka, CA. August 22, 1908, p.5; August 27, 1908, p.5.
    Palmquist, Peter. R.J. Baker File. Private manuscript collection and information files compiled by Peter Palmquist. Transferred to the Beinecke Library at Yale University in 2000. [one file folder]
    Turner, Dennis W. Place Names of Humboldt County, California: A compendium, 1542-1992. Orangevale: D. W. Turner, 1993.
    Ward, Charles Willis. Humboldt County: The Land Of Unrivaled Undeveloped Natural Resources On The Westernmost Rim Of The American Continent. [Eureka: Ward-Perkins-Gill Co.] 1915.