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Carleton E. Watkins Mammoth Plate Photograph Albums: Finding Aid
137500; 137501; 137502; 137503  
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A set of four albums of mammoth plate photographs by American photographer Carleton E. Watkins (1829-1916) made approximately 1876-1889 in California, Nevada, and Arizona. The albums contain 174 photographs and are titled: Photographic Views of Kern County, California; The Central Pacific Railroad and Views Adjacent; Summits of the Sierra; and Arizona and Views Adjacent to the Southern Pacific Railroad.
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’s 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.
174 mammoth plate photographs in 4 albums: albumen prints; size of prints varies, approximately 36 x 53 cm. (14 1/4 x 21 in.); albums each 50 x 69 cm. (19 3/4 x 27 1/4 in.)
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.
Open to qualified researchers by prior application through the Reader Services Department. Due to the fragility of the albums, access is granted only by permission of the Curator of Photographs. Copy prints are available for reference use. For more information, contact Reader Services.