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Watkins (Carleton E.) Mammoth Plate Photographs of Yosemite, New Almaden Mine and the Mendocino Coast, California
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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
  • Processing Information
  • Related Materials
  • Existence and Location of Copies
  • Arrangement
  • Publications

  • Contributing Institution: The Huntington Library
    Title: Carleton E. Watkins mammoth plate photographs of Yosemite, New Almaden Mine and the Mendocino Coast, California
    Creator: Watkins, Carleton E., 1829-1916
    Identifier/Call Number: 379010
    Physical Description: 20 Linear Feet (8 boxes). 50 mammoth plate photographs in 2 volumes (disbound): albumen prints; size of prints varies, approximately 40 x 53 cm; volumes each 53 x 67 cm
    Date (inclusive): 1861-1864
    Abstract: A collection of 50 mammoth plate photographs of Yosemite, the New Almaden Mine, and Mendocino, California by American photographer Carleton E. Watkins (1829-1916). The prints were in a two-volume set, now disbound, containing a title page dated 1863 and a dedication page reading: "To Ernest Frignet / His California Friends / April 1864." The photographs are landscape views of Yosemite and the Mariposa giant sequoias, taken by Watkins in 1861, followed by 1863 views of New Almaden Quicksilver Mine and Mendocino, both in Northern California.
    Language of Material: English

    Conditions Governing Access

    RESTRICTED. Photographs are fragile and only available with curatorial approval. Please view digital surrogates.

    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], Collection of Carleton E. Watkins mammoth plate photographs of Yosemite, New Almaden Mine and the Mendocino Coast, California, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    Purchased by the Friends of the Huntington Library from Pierre Berès, Inc., April 1, 1950.

    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 collection contains 50 mammoth plate, albumen photographs made in 1861 and 1863 by Carleton E. Watkins (1829-1916), depicting Yosemite, the New Almaden Quicksilver Mine, and Mendocino, California. The prints are all signed by Watkins and were originally bound in two volumes, now disbound. The first volume begins with a title page dated 1863 and a dedication page reading: "To Ernest Frignet / His California Friends / April 1864."
    Ernest Frignet (b. 1823), dedicatee, wrote several books and articles on California and the West that published in France, most notably "La Californie, histoire, organisation politique et administrative, législation, description physique et géologique. Agriculture—industrie—commerce," (Paris, 1866). The "California Friends" who presented him with the photographs are unidentified.
    The title pages are in decorative calligraphy by Fulgenzio Seregni, a native of Milan, Italy who came to California in 1858. He established himself in San Francisco, where he taught drawing and writing in public schools and colleges, and later became a well-known designer of marble monuments.
    In addition to Watkins' signature, each print has a handwritten title in the style of calligrapher Seregni, on the mount below the print. The top corners of the prints are rounded or "dome-topped," a practice used to eliminate darkened corners caused by early camera lenses.
    The volumes were bound by noted French bookbinder Léon Gruel (1841-1923), who operated a renowned bindery in Paris. The first leaf of each volume is stamped "GRUEL."

    Processing Information

    Processed by Suzanne Oatey in 2019. In October 2022, Mari Khasmanyan updated the finding aid and included links to their digital reproductions.

    Related Materials

    1. Photographic views of Kern County, California,  137500.
    2. Central Pacific Railroad and views adjacent,  137501.
    3. Summits of the Sierras,  137502.
    4. Arizona and views adjacent to the Southern Pacific Railroad,  137503.
    5. Carleton E. Watkins photograph collection,  photCL 74.
    6. Carleton E. Watkins stereograph collection,  photST Watkins.
    7. Scenes in Yosemite photograph album,  photCL 409.
    8. Sunny Slope. San Gabriel, Cal. / by Watkins,  photCL 522.
    9. Album of the Yo-semite Valley, California,  406039.

    Existence and Location of Copies

    This collection has been digitized in its entirety and the digital reproductions are available in the Huntington Digital Library. 


    The original arrangement of the volumes has been retained:
    Volume 1. Yo-semite Valley / Photographic Views of the Falls and Valley of Yo-semite in Mariposa County, California, (30 prints), 1861-1864.
    Volume 2. New Almaden Quicksilver Mine, (8 prints), 1863.
    Volume 2. Mendocino Coast Views, (12 prints), 1863.


    Green, Tyler. Carleton Watkins: Making the West American (University of California Press, 2018).
    Naef, Weston J. and Christine Hult-Lewis. Carleton Watkins: The Complete Mammoth Photographs (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2011).
    Palmquist, Peter E. "Carleton E. Watkins: Master of the 'Grand View'" The Argonaut, vol. 6, no. 2 (1995/96).
    Palmquist, Peter E. Carleton E. Watkins: Photographer of the American West (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1983).

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Giant sequoia -- California -- Photographs
    Frontier and pioneer life -- West (U.S.) -- Photographs
    Landscapes -- California -- Photographs.
    Trees -- California -- Photographs.
    Mercury mines and mining -- California -- New Almaden -- Photographs
    Mining camps -- California -- New Almaden -- Photographs
    Mines and mineral resources -- California -- Photographs
    Mexican Americans -- Employment -- History -- 19th century -- Photographs
    Child labor -- United States -- Photographs
    Pomo Indians -- Photographs
    Indians of North America -- California -- Photographs
    Lumber trade -- California -- Mendocino County -- Photographs
    Logging -- California -- Photographs
    Mills and mill-work -- California -- Photographs
    Rivers -- California, Northern -- Photographs
    Frontier and pioneer life -- California -- Photographs
    Soldiers -- California -- Photographs
    California -- Photographs
    Mariposa Grove (Calif.) -- Photographs
    Sierra Nevada (Calif. and Nev.) -- Photographs
    Yosemite Valley (Calif.) -- Photographs
    Yosemite National Park (Calif.) -- Photographs
    New Almaden (Calif.) -- Photographs
    Mendocino County (Calif.) -- Photographs
    Mendocino (Calif.) -- Photographs
    Pacific Coast (Calif.) -- Photographs
    Fort Bragg (Calif.) -- Photographs
    New Almaden Mines -- Photographs
    Albumen prints
    Mammoth plate
    Landscape photographs
    Photograph albums
    Clark, Galen, 1814-1910 -- Photographs
    Gruel, Léon, 1841-1923, binder