Information for Researchers
Scope and Content
Collection Title: Stereo Views of the West by Carleton E. Watkins
Date (inclusive): ca. 1865-ca. 1880
Collection Number: BANC PIC 19xx.106--STER
Carleton E. Watkins
75 stereographs; 9 x 18 cm.
76 digital objects
The Bancroft Library.
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720-6000
Phone: (510) 642-6481
Fax: (510) 642-7589
Languages Represented: Collection materials are in English
Information for Researchers
Collection is available for use.
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.
[Identification of item], Stereo Views of the West by Carleton E. Watkins, ca. 1865-ca. 1880, BANC PIC 19xx.106--STER, 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.
The Stereo Views of the West photographs are of unknown provenance.
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 1860s and 1870s.
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.
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 Stereo Views of the West photograph collection consists of 75 stereographs taken by Carleton E. Watkins from circa 1865
to circa 1880. The photographs are arranged by and numbered with Watkins' series number. The collection includes views from
the following series: "Watkins' New Series," "Watkins' Pacific Coast" views and "Watkins Central Pacific Railroad" views.
Miscellaneous scenes of California and the West include views of San Francisco, Yosemite, San Mateo, Santa Monica, Mount Shasta
and the Farallone Islands.
Printed captions are reprinted in the container listing. Captions in parentheses appear in manuscript on the stereographs.
Captions in brackets have been supplied.