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Watkins (Carleton E.) Mammoth Plate Photographs of Comstock Mining, Yosemite, San Francisco, Los Angeles County, and the American West
photCL Watkins 39-98  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Conditions Governing Access
  • Conditions Governing Use
  • Preferred Citation
  • Immediate Source of Acquisition
  • Biographical / Historical
  • Scope and Contents
  • Related Materials
  • Arrangement
  • Sources consulted:

  • Contributing Institution: The Huntington Library. Photo Archives
    Title: Carleton E. Watkins Mammoth Plate Photographs of Comstock Mining, Yosemite, San Francisco, Los Angeles County, and the American West
    Creator: Watkins, Carleton E., 1829-1916
    Identifier/Call Number: photCL Watkins 39-98
    Physical Description: 11 Linear Feet (9 boxes)
    Physical Description: 61 Photographic Prints: mammoth plate, albumen: size of prints varies, approximately 40 x 53 cm. (15 3/4 x 20 3/4 in.)
    Date (inclusive): 1861-1880
    Abstract: A collection of 61 mammoth plate photographs by American photographer Carleton E. Watkins (1829-1916), of various subjects in the American West, 1861-1880. The photographs include mines and mills in the Comstock district, Nevada; Yosemite Valley; Los Angeles County ranches and agriculture; San Francisco's maritime commerce and stately residences; Salt Lake City, Utah; and assorted landscape and coastal views.
    Language of Material: Materials are in English.

    Conditions Governing Access

    Open to qualified researchers by prior application through the Reader Services Department. Due to the fragility of the prints, access is granted only by permission of the Curator of Photography. For more information, contact Reader Services.

    Conditions Governing Use

    The Huntington Library does not require that researchers request permission to quote from or publish images of this material, nor does it charge fees for such activities. The responsibility for identifying the copyright holder, if there is one, and obtaining necessary permissions rests with the researcher.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item]. Carleton E. Watkins Mammoth Plate Photographs of Comstock Mining, Yosemite, San Francisco, Los Angeles County, and the American West, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    Item nos. 42, 43, 45-52: Purchased from Goodspeed's Book Shop, 1968.
    Item nos. 53-71: Purchased from Grahame Hardy, 1964.
    Item nos. 72-87: Purchased from David Magee, 1958.
    Item nos. 88-92: Gift of Arthur N. Carter, 1936; 1938.
    Item no. 94: Purchased from Warren Howell, 1966.
    Item nos. 94a, 95: Transferred from John Haskell Kemble collection, 1997.
    Item nos. 96-98: Purchased by the Library Collectors' Council from Michael Dawson, 2012.
    Item nos. 39-41, 44, 93: Provenance unknown.

    Biographical / Historical

    Carleton E. Watkins (1829-1916) was born in 1829 in Oneonta, New York. In 1851, he migrated to Sacramento, California in the company of businessman Collis P. Huntington and several other residents of Oneonta. He began his photographic career as an apprentice to established San Francisco Bay area studio photographers Robert H. Vance (1825–1876) and James May Ford (c. 1827–1877).
    Watkins photographed Yosemite for the first time in 1861. His large-scale images inspired President Abraham Lincoln and the United States Congress to declare Yosemite the nation's first national preserve in 1864. By the end of the American Civil War, the photographer had become one of the medium's leading lights, winning prestigious commissions and international awards.
    Over the course of his career, Watkins operated studios at various Montgomery Street addresses in San Francisco. Around 1869, he purchased Alfred A. Hart's stereographic negatives documenting the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad. Watkins subsequently published Hart's negatives under the series title: "Watkins Central Pacific Railroad."
    Watkins suffered severe financial reverses in 1875, losing his negative inventory to competitor Isaiah H. Taber. From that point onward, Watkins published negatives under the "New Series" heading.
    In 1879, Watkins married Frances Henrietta Snead. The couple had two children, Julia (1881–1977) and Collis (1883–1965). By the early 1890s, declining health forced Watkins to curtail his activities. He took his last major commission in 1894, photographing the Phoebe Apperson Hearst residence, Hacienda del Pozo de Verona, in Pleasanton, California. The earthquake and fire of 1906 destroyed Watkins' San Francisco studio and its contents. Shortly thereafter, he entered the Napa State Asylum for the Insane in Napa, California, where he died in 1916.

    Scope and Contents

    This is a collection of 61 mammoth plate photographs by Carleton Watkins made 1861-1880 in the American West, primarily California and Nevada. The subject matter is varied and includes mining views in the Comstock district, Nevada; Yosemite Valley; Los Angeles County ranches and agriculture; San Francisco's maritime commerce and stately residences; Salt Lake City, Utah; and assorted landscape and coastal views. These photographs were acquired by the Huntington Library over several decades from different sources.
    One of the largest series of photographs depicts mining companies and mills in the Comstock district, Nevada in 1876, when the region was in its greatest "bonanza" period. The landscape photographs depict the mine's wooden buildings and mills set in canyons and along rivers, and include piles of wood, some equipment, and occasionally employees and their families. Watkins traveled on the Virginia & Truckee Railroad to reach some sites, and railroad tracks are visible in some views. The mining sites pictured are: Mexican Mill, Merrimac Mill, Brunswick Mill, Vivian Mill, Santiago Mill, Eureka Mill, Franklin Mill, Windfield Mining Company, Land Mining Company, Empire State Mining Company, and Pacific Mining Company.
    A series of 20 views of Yosemite Valley, made by Watkins in 1861 and 1865-66, feature waterfalls, granite walls and cliffs, rivers and other scenery. Three views were made in the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoia trees, where naturalist Galen Clark lived in a cabin, seen in "Galen's Hospice" (item 50). Clark is also pictured in front of the "Grizzly Giant" sequoia in 1861, and on a bridge over the Merced River.
    Photographs in Los Angeles County depict ranches, orchards and agriculture in Pasadena and other parts of the San Gabriel Valley. Besides individual residences (see contents list for names of owners), views include: a small community of houses in Pasadena called the Indiana Colony; the "Twin Palms" in San Gabriel; Episcopal Church of Our Saviour, San Gabriel (built 1869); and the Sierra Madre Villa hotel at the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.
    In San Francisco, there are three city views of houses in elite neighborhoods, taken 1862-1867. Two of these photographs, the "Milton S. Latham Residence, Folsom Street" (item 97) and the "Coe-Raymond-Earle Residence, Rincon Hill" (item 98), were undiscovered at the time of publishing the catalog raisonne (see Sources). The third photograph, "Residences of Mr. Robinson and Rev. W. A. Scott, Rincon Hill" (item 96), is only known to exist in one other copy (Naef catalog: no. 340). There are also three views of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company warehouse buildings and wharf, with ships seen at dock and in the bay. The views include St. Mary's Hospital on Rincon Hill, and a distant view of the U.S. Marine Hospital.
    The remaining photographs in the collection are: coastal views of Mendocino County and the Farallon Islands; landscapes of the Columbia River in Oregon and Washington; a bird's-eye-view of Salt Lake City and the Mormon Tabernacle; and rock formations in "Echo City from Witch Rocks, Utah."
    The prints are all individually mounted and vary slightly in size, approximately 15 3/4 x 20 3/4 inches. Some are signed and numbered in ink on the mount below the photograph, and some have titles and numbers written in pencil in what appears to be Watkins' hand.

    Related Materials

    Carleton E. Watkins Mammoth Plate Photograph Albums:   Photographic Views of Kern County, California (137500); The Central Pacific Railroad and Views Adjacent (137501); Summits of the Sierra (137502); and Arizona and Views Adjacent to the Southern Pacific Railroad (137503)
    Carleton E. Watkins Mammoth Plate Photographs of California Missions (photCL Watkins 1-38)  
    Carleton E. Watkins Mammoth Plate Photographs of Yosemite, New Almaden Mine and the Mendocino Coast, California: (379010)  
    Carleton E. Watkins Photograph Collection (photCL 74)  
    Carleton E. Watkins Stereograph Collection (photST Watkins)  
    Watkins, Carleton E. Scenes in Yosemite photograph album (photCL 409)  
    Watkins, Carleton E. Sunny Slope. San Gabriel, Cal. photograph album (photCL 522)  
    Watkins, Carleton E. Album of the Yo-semite Valley, California (New York: D. Appleton, 1866) (406039)  


    The photographs are arranged into 5 series by subject:
    • Series 1. Los Angeles County (9 photographs: 39, 40, 41, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93)
    • Series 2. San Francisco and the Pacific Coast (10 photographs: 94, 94a, 95, 96, 97, 98, 42, 43, 46, 45)
    • Series 3. Yosemite Valley (20 photographs: 47, 49, 50, 51, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87)
    • Series 4. Comstock district, Nevada – Mining views (20 photographs: 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71)
    • Series 5. Utah (2 photographs: 44, 48)

    Sources consulted:

    Hult-Lewis, Christine. The Mining Photographs of Carleton Watkins, 1858-1891, and the Origins of Corporate Photography . PhD diss., (Boston University, 2011).
    Naef, Weston J. and Christine Hult-Lewis. Carleton Watkins: The Complete Mammoth Photographs (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2011)

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Agriculture -- California -- Photographs
    Dwellings -- California -- San Francisco -- Photographs
    Giant sequoia -- Photographs
    Hotels -- California -- Photographs
    Mills and mill-work -- Nevada -- Photographs
    Mines and mineral resources -- Nevada -- Photographs
    Ranches -- California -- Photographs
    Shipping -- California -- San Francisco -- Photographs
    Silver mines and mining -- Nevada -- Photographs
    Steamboats -- History -- 19th century
    Farallon Islands (Calif.) -- Photographs
    Mariposa Grove (Calif.) -- Photographs
    Pacific Coast (Calif.) -- Photographs
    Pasadena (Calif.) -- Photographs
    Salt Lake City (Utah) -- Photographs
    San Francisco (Calif.) -- Buildings, structures, etc -- Photographs
    San Gabriel (Calif.) -- Photographs
    Yosemite Valley (Calif.) -- Photographs
    Church buildings -- California -- Los Angeles County -- Photographs
    Clark, Galen, 1814-1910 -- Photographs
    Latham, Milton S. (Milton Slocum), 1827-1882 -- Homes and haunts -- Photographs
    Kewen, E. J. C. (Edward John Cage), 1825-1879 -- Homes and haunts -- Photographs
    Rose, L. J. (Leonard John), 1827-1899 -- Homes and haunts -- Photographs
    Tabernacle (Salt Lake City, Utah) -- Photographs
    Pacific Mail Steamship Company -- Photographs
    Albumen prints
    Mammoth plate