San Francisco Photographs Taken by Carleton E. Watkins, ca. 1872-ca. 1879

Processed by Chris McDonald.
The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, California 94720-6000

San Francisco Photographs Taken by Carleton E. Watkins, ca. 1872-ca. 1879

BANC PIC 1983.115 -- B

The Bancroft Library

University of California

Berkeley, California 1996
Finding aid and digital representations of archival materials funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
    Processed and encoded by:
    California Heritage Digital Image Access Project staff in The Bancroft Library and The Library's Electronic Text Unit
    Digital images processed by:
    The Library Photographic Service
    Finding aid completed:
    November 1996
© 1996 The Regents of the University of California

Collection Summary

Collection Title: San Francisco Photographs Taken by Carleton E. Watkins,
Date: ca. 1872-ca. 1879
Collection Number: BANC PIC 1983.115 -- B
Extent: 13 photographic prints, albumen, 21 x 31 cm. or smaller; mounted on 8 album leaves. 13 digital objects
Photographer: Carleton E. Watkins
Repository: The Bancroft Library. University of California, Berkeley.
Berkeley, California 94720-6000
Languages Represented: English

Information for Researchers


Restricted originals. Use viewing prints only. Use of originals only by permission of the Curator of Pictorial Collections, The Bancroft Library.

Publication Rights

Copyright has not been assigned to The Bancroft Library. All requests for permission to publish photographs must be submitted in writing to the Curator of Pictorial Collections. Permission for publication is given on behalf of The Bancroft Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.
Copyright restrictions also apply to digital representations of the original materials. Use of digital files is restricted to research and educational purposes.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item] San Francisco Photographs Taken by Carleton E. Watkins, BANC PIC 1983.115 --B, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Digital Representations Available

Digital representations of selected original pictorial materials are available in the list of materials below. Digital image files were prepared from selected Library originals by the Library Photographic Service. Library originals were copied onto 35mm color transparency film; the film was scanned and transferred to Kodak Photo CD (by Custom Process); and the Photo CD files were color-corrected and saved in JFIF (JPEG) format for use as viewing files.

Related Collections


The Bancroft Library has a large collection of work by Carleton E. Watkins. Search the pictorial file under Watkins for more listings.
Identifier/Call Number: 19xx.197--PIC
Title: Photographic views of the Golden Feather and Golden Gate Mining Claims by Carleton E. Watkins


Some of the photographs in this series are also included in the Hearst Collection of Mining Views.
Identifier/Call Number: 19xx.194--PIC
Title: Photographs of the Mariposa Estate by Carleton E. Watkins
Identifier/Call Number: 1974.019--PIC
Title: Photographic Views of El Verano and Vicinity, Sonoma Valley, California. Photographed by Carleton E. Watkins.
Identifier/Call Number: 19xx.198--PIC
Title: California Scenes [1860's - 70's] by Carleton E. Watkins
Identifier/Call Number: 19xx.199--PIC
Title: Photographs of Yosemite and Oregon by Carleton E. Watkins
Identifier/Call Number: 1905.17175--ffALB
Title: The Hearst Mining Collection of Views by C.E. Watkins

Administrative Information

Acquisition Information

The San Francisco Photographs collection was purchased in 1982.


Carleton E. Watkins was born in Oneonta, Oswego county, New York, on November 11, 1829. He was the youngest of five children of a Scottish innkeeper. During his youth he became acquainted with Collis P. Huntington, who frequented his father's hotel. Soon after the discovery of gold, both young men went to California, where Huntington later became one of the Big Four who built the Central Pacific Railroad.
In 1854, while working as a clerk in a store on Montgomery Street, Watkins met R. H. Vance, the daguerreotypist who had studios in San Francisco, San Jose and Sacramento. The employee at Vance's San Jose studio had suddenly quit and Vance asked Watkins if he would fill in until a permanent replacement could be found. Although he knew nothing of photographic processes, Watkins agreed. For the first few days he was simply the care-taker of the studio, but when Vance could not find a new operator, he instructed Watkins in coating the daguerreotype plates and making exposures. With only the briefest instructions, Watkins was able to make portraits and completely operated the gallery for a short period. In 1857 or 1858 Watkins returned to San Francisco where he established his own photographic studio for portraits and view photography.
Watkins usually spent a large portion of the summer traveling throughout California, leaving his gallery and studio in the hands of an assistant. In 1858 or 1859 he visited the Mariposa Grove and was the first person to photograph the "Grizzly Giant." In 1861, Watkins visited the Yosemite Valley and made the first 18" x 22" landscape photographs in California (and possibly the world). He made many more trips to Yosemite during the 1860's and 1870's.
In 1868 Watkins made his first trip to Oregon, where he made the first photographic reproductions of the Columbia River. Five years later, Watkins went to Utah with his wagon, team and photographic equipment on railroad cars. Thanks to his friend Collis P. Huntington, he traveled free. He was accompanied on this trip by close friend and artist William Keith, who made extensive use of Watkins' photographs for many of his oil paintings.
During the winter of 1871-72, Watkins expanded his San Francisco gallery (the Yosemite Gallery), which put an extra strain on his finances. When the Bank of California went under in 1874, Watkins lost his Yosemite Art Galley to competitors J.J. Cook and I.W. Taber. Not only did his competitors take over his Gallery, they took all of his negatives as well. Watkins then began the task of rebuilding his collection, which meant rephotographing many of the sites he had visited earlier in his career. "Watkins' New Series" of views replaced those lost in the foreclosure. Watkins did become reassociated with the Yosemite Gallery, first as a photographer, and later as manager, but never as the owner.
Watkins went to the Comstock Lode, near Virginia City, Nevada, in 1876. Here he made many of the photographs that comprise the Hearst Collection. It was probably during this trip that he met Frances Sneed, who later managed his Montgomery Street studio and became his wife on November 11, 1880 (Watkins' fiftieth birthday). They had two children : a daughter, Julia and a son, Collis.
In 1880, Watkins went to Southern California for the first time and traveled along the line of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Later he went to the "End of the Track" and as far as Tombstone, Arizona. The photographs taken by Watkins on this trip represent some of the earliest views of San Bernardino, San Gabriel, Pasadena, Los Angeles and San Diego. On the way back to San Francisco, he followed the old overland stage road, traveling the greater part of the way in his wagon and photographing most of the Franciscan missions. These pictures constitute the earliest photographic collection of California Missions.
On a second trip to the Northwest in 1890, Watkins made a series of stereoscopic views in Victoria, B. C. He extended this trip into Montana where he made 18" x 22" views of the Anaconda copper mines and other properties. His last large commercial job and long country trip was to photograph the development work of the Kern County Land Company near Bakersfield. He made seven hundred views using 8" x 10" dry plate negatives. In the late 1890's, Watkins began to photograph the Hearst Hacienda near Pleasanton for Phoebe Apperson Hearst, but ill health prevented him from completing the assignment.
Watkins was in the process of negotiating with Stanford University for the sale of his plates, photographs, etc. when the 1906 earthquake struck San Francisco. By this time, Watkins was partially blind, in poor health and experiencing financial difficulties. He had been living with his family in his studio on the top floor of a building on the southeast corner of Ninth and Market Streets. Immediately following the quake, Watkins' wife and daughter went to the refugee camp at the Presidio. Watkins was led by his son to the home of his old friend, C. B. Turrill, who had assisted Watkins financially in the past. Watkins' entire collection was destroyed in the fire which followed the quake. He was shocked by the loss of his life's work and shortly thereafter retired to his small ranch near Capay in Yolo County. The ranch had been deeded to Watkins through the offices of Collis P. Huntington of the Southern Pacific Railroad for his faithful, but unpaid, service to the railroad.
Watkins never recovered from the shock of losing his entire collection in the San Francisco fire. He managed to live at the ranch with his family until it became necessary to have him committed to the Napa State Hospital at Imola, California in 1910. He died on June 23, 1916 at the age of eighty-seven and was buried on the hospital grounds.
(From : The Early Pacific Coast Photographs of Carleton E. Watkins, by J. W. Johnson, Professor of Hydraulic Engineering, University of California Berkeley, and " The Life and Photography of Carleton E. Watkins", by Peter E. Palmquist.)

Scope and Content

The San Francisco Photographs collection contains 13 albumen prints taken by Carleton E. Watkins circa 1872 to circa 1879. The collection features various views of San Francisco, and includes two prints (Nos. 11 and 12) which were originally taken as part of a larger panorama of the city. Points of interest pictured in the collection include Bush Street; California Street, showing St. Mary's Cathedral and the terminus of the California Street Cable Car Company; Montgomery Street; exterior and court views of the Palace Hotel; Market Street; a Chinatown alley; the Cliff House and Seal Rocks; and city views taken from what are presently the Nob Hill and Russian Hill areas which show Telegraph Hill, Washington Square, and Goat Island (now Yerba Buena Island). Also pictured are Watkins' photographic wagon (No. 6) and the photographic studio of I.W. Taber and T.H. Boyd (No. 3).
The collection also includes a photograph of a tarantula.
The photographs are mounted on what were apparently album leaves. The captions are hand-lettered in ink. The 1879 dating of the leaves may refer to the year of the original album's compilation, as several of the prints have been determined to date from as early as circa 1872.

Container Listing


:1 Bush Street.


:2 California Street.


:3 View of Palace Hotel.


:4 Market Street, West View.


:5 China Town.


:6 California Street.


:7 Tarantula.


:8 Interior Palace Hotel.


:9 Telegraph Hill and Washington.


:10 San Francisco and Goat Island.


:11 From California Street, Hill.


:12 Panorama from California and Powell Street.


:13 Cliff House and Seal Rocks.