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Carleton E. Watkins Mammoth Plate Photographs of Yosemite, New Almaden Mine and the Mendocino Coast, California: Finding Aid
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Overview of the Collection
  • Access
  • Administrative Information
  • Biographical Note
  • Scope and Content
  • Sources consulted
  • Related materials in the Huntington Library
  • Indexing Terms

  • Overview of the Collection

    Title: Carleton E. Watkins Mammoth Plate Photographs of Yosemite, New Almaden Mine and the Mendocino Coast, California
    Dates (inclusive): 1863-1864; negatives 1861, 1863
    Collection Number(s): 379010
    Creator: Watkins, Carleton E., 1829-1916
    Extent: 50 mammoth plate photographs in 2 volumes (disbound): albumen prints; size of prints varies, approximately 40 x 53 cm. (15 3/4 x 20 3/4 in.); volumes each 53 x 67 cm. (21 x 26 1/2 in.)
    Repository: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo Archives
    1151 Oxford Road
    San Marino, California 91108
    Phone: (626) 405-2191
    Email: reference@huntington.org
    URL: http://www.huntington.org
    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: English.


    Open to qualified researchers by prior application through the Reader Services Department. Due to the large size and fragility of the photographs, access is granted only by permission of the Curator of Photographs. For more information, contact Reader Services.

    Administrative Information

    Publication Rights

    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.


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

    Biographical Note

    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 Content

    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."

    The photographs are in three series, each with a title page in elaborate calligraphy by Fulgenzio Seregni:
      Vol. 1
      Yo-semite Valley / Photographic Views of the Falls and Valley of Yo-semite in Mariposa County, California (30 prints, negatives 1861)
      Vol. 2
      New Almaden Quicksilver Mine (8 prints, negatives 1863)
      Mendocino Coast Views (12 prints, negatives 1863)
    (See descriptions and lists of photographs in Collection Contents, below.)

    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.”

    Sources consulted

    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)

    Related materials in the Huntington Library

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the Huntington Library's Online Catalog.  


    Clark, Galen, 1814-1910 -- Photographs.
    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.
    Gruel, Léon, 1841-1923, binder.


    Albumen prints.
    Mammoth plate.
    Landscape photographs.
    Photograph albums.