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Watkins (Carleton E.) Mammoth Plate Photograph Albums
137500; 137501; 137502; 137503  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Access
  • Existence and Location of Copies
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Provenance
  • Provenance Note / Related Material
  • Biographical Note
  • Scope and Content
  • Related materials in the Huntington Library
  • Arrangement
  • Sources consulted

  • Contributing Institution: The Huntington Library
    Title: Carleton E. Watkins Mammoth Plate Photograph Albums
    Creator: Watkins, Carleton E., 1829-1916
    Identifier/Call Number: 137500; 137501; 137502; 137503
    Physical Description: 9.33 Linear Feet (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.))
    Date (inclusive): approximately 1876-1889
    Abstract: 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.
    Language of Material: English.


    RESTRICTED. Available with curatorial approval. Requires extended retrieval and delivery time.

    Existence and Location of Copies

    This collection has been digitized in its entirety and the digital reproductions are available in the Huntington Digital Library. 
    Copy prints, copy negatives and copy transparencies on file; see Copy negatives collection, photCL 720.

    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], Carleton E. Watkins Mammoth Plate Photograph Albums, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.


    These albums were most likely made sometime in the 1890s for railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington (1821-1900), a boyhood friend of Watkins' from Oneonta, New York. They eventually came into the private library of Henry E. Huntington, Collis' nephew, who established the Huntington Library in 1919. Library catalog records show that the "Summits of the Sierras" album was in the Library as of 1922 and the other three albums were in the Library as of 1930.

    Provenance Note / Related Material

    The Hispanic Society of America, New York, also held a set of four Watkins mammoth plate photograph albums, identically bound to these, of related subjects. They were received in the 1920s from the museum's founder, Archer Huntington, who was Collis P. Huntington's stepson. In 2018, the museum sold three of the albums through Christie's to an unknown buyer, and it is anticipated they will be donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art ( New York Times, Nov. 1, 2018). The HSA retained one of the albums, photographs of Spanish missions of California.
    There isn't any surviving documentation regarding the transfer of the albums from Watkins to Collis P. Huntington. It appears likely, though, that all eight albums were made at the same time for Huntington and were dispersed to his heirs sometime after his death in 1900.

    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'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.

    Scope and Content

    This collection contains four albums of mammoth plate photographs made approximately 1876-1889 by photographer Carleton E. Watkins (1829-1916). Prints are mounted on boards and are accompanied by labels with titles, descriptions, and Watkins' imprint. The albums are described briefly here, with expanded descriptions and photograph titles in the contents list:
    1. Photographic Views of Kern County, California (39 prints), approximately 1881-1889, focuses on agricultural production in California's Central Valley. Views include crops, details of irrigation dams built on a river, livestock, farm workers in the field, farming company ranch houses, and farm owners. Some views depict everyday farm work, such as men harvesting wheat and alfalfa with the aid of horses, tools, and large machinery.
    2. The Central Pacific Railroad and Views Adjacent (48 prints), approximately 1876-1880s, contains photographs of trains, lodging and scenery along the California-Nevada route of the Central Pacific Railroad, from ports in the San Francisco Bay Area to the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
    3. Summits of the Sierra (41 prints), 1879, contains photographs of the vistas, mountain peaks, lakes, and topography of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Watkins took the photographs in the summer of 1879 while accompanying a government survey team.
    4. Arizona and Views Adjacent to the Southern Pacific Railroad (46 prints), 1880, includes views of mining camps, railroad depots, towns, desert landscapes, cactus, and the Spanish colonial mission San Xavier del Bac. There are several views of mines near Tombstone, Arizona, and the railroad bridge spanning the Colorado River at Fort Yuma. Native Americans and others are seen posed with a large steam locomotive in the desert, and there are several views of the ancient stone ruins at Casa Grande.

    Related materials in the Huntington Library

    1. Carleton E. Watkins Photograph Collection (photCL 74)  
    2. Carleton E. Watkins Stereograph Collection (photST Watkins)  
    3. Watkins, Carleton E. [Collection of mammoth plate photographs of Yosemite, New Almaden Mine and the Mendocino Coast, 1863-1864] (379010 v. 1-2)  
    4. Watkins, Carleton E. Scenes in Yosemite photograph album (photCL 409)  
    5. Watkins, Carleton E. Sunny Slope. San Gabriel, Cal. photograph album (photCL 522)  
    6. Watkins, Carleton E. Album of the Yo-semite Valley, California (New York : D. Appleton, 1866) (406039)  
    7. See the Huntington Library catalog  for additional Carleton Watkins photographs.


    The albums were assigned call numbers in an arbitrary sequence by the Library, and are listed here in that order:
    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)

    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: Photographer of the American West (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1983)

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Agriculture -- California -- Photographs.
    Agricultural exhibitions -- California -- Photographs.
    Agricultural laborers -- California -- Photographs.
    Farms -- California -- Kern County -- Photographs.
    Irrigation -- California -- Kern County -- Photographs.
    Orchards -- California -- Kern County -- Photographs.
    Locomotives -- Photographs.
    Railroad construction workers -- Photographs.
    Railroad trains -- Photographs.
    Railroads -- United States -- History -- 19th century -- Photographs.
    Train ferries -- Photographs.
    Boats and boating -- Photographs.
    Foreign workers, Chinese -- West (U.S.)-- Photographs.
    Hotels -- California -- 1880-1910 -- Photographs.
    Lakes -- California -- Photographs.
    Landscapes -- West (U.S.)-- Photographs.
    Logging -- Photographs.
    Mountains -- California -- Photographs.
    Surveying -- Instruments -- Photographs.
    Trestles -- Design and construction -- Photographs.
    Cactus -- Photographs.
    Frontier and pioneer life -- West (U.S.) -- Photographs.
    Indians of North America -- Southwest, New -- Photographs.
    Mines and mineral resources -- Arizona -- Photographs.
    Mines and mineral resources -- West (U.S.) -- Photographs.
    Missions, Spanish -- Arizona -- Photographs.
    Silver mines and mining -- Arizona -- Photographs.
    Tohono O'odham Indians -- Photographs.
    Bakersfield (Calif.)-- Buildings, structures, etc. -- Photographs.
    Kern County (Calif.)-- Photographs.
    Alameda (Calif.) -- Photographs.
    Donner Pass (Calif.) -- Photographs.
    California -- Photographs.
    Nevada -- Photographs.
    Placer County (Calif.) -- Photographs.
    Reno (Nev.) -- Photographs.
    Sierra Nevada (Calif. and Nev.) -- Photographs.
    Sierra Nevada (Calif. and Nev.) -- Surveys
    Soda Springs (Calif.) -- Photographs.
    Tahoe, Lake (Calif. and Nev.) -- Photographs.
    West (U.S.) -- Surveys -- Photographs.
    Arizona -- Photographs.
    Casa Grande Ruins National Monument (Ariz.) -- Photographs.
    Fort Yuma Reservation (Ariz. and Calif.) -- Photographs.
    Tombstone (Ariz.) -- Photographs.
    Tucson (Ariz.) -- Photographs.
    West (U.S.) -- Photographs.
    Yuma (Ariz.) -- Photographs.
    Albumen prints.
    Mammoth plate.
    Landscape photographs.
    Photograph albums.
    Southern Pacific Railroad Company -- Photographs.