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Hearst Mining Collection of Views by C. E. Watkins, 1871-1876
BANC PIC 1905.17175--ffALB  
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  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: Hearst Mining Collection of Views by C. E. Watkins
    Date: 1871-1876
    Collection Number: BANC PIC 1905.17175--ffALB
    Photographer: Watkins, C. E.
    Extent: 150 photographs in 12 oversize boxes 139 digital objects
    Repository: The Bancroft Library.
    University of California, Berkeley
    Berkeley, CA 94720-6000
    Phone: (510) 642-6481
    Fax: (510) 642-7589
    Email: bancref@library.berkeley.edu
    URL: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/
    Languages Represented: Collection materials are in English

    Information for Researchers


    Original prints are restricted and may not be viewed unless permission is granted by the Curator of Pictorial Collections. Viewing prints are available under the call number : BANC PIC 1905.17175--PIC.

    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], Hearst Mining Collection of Views by C. E. Watkins, 1871-1876, BANC PIC 1905.17175--ffALB, 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 Material

    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: BANC PIC 19xx.197--PIC :
    Title: Photographic views of the Golden Feather and Golden Gate Mining Claims by Carleton E. Watkins.
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC PIC 1974.019--PIC :
    Title: Photographic Views of El Verano and vicinity, Sonoma Valley, California. Photographed by Carleton E. Watkins.
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC PIC 19xx.198--PIC :
    Title: California Scenes [1860's - 70's] by Carleton E. Watkins.
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC PIC 19xx.199--PIC :
    Title: Photographs of Yosemite and Oregon by Carleton E. Watkins.
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC PIC 19xx.194--PIC :
    Title: Photographs of the Mariposa Estate and Environs Taken by Carleton E. Watkins, 1860.
    Title: Collection of Photographs by Carleton E. Watkins, ca. 1874-1890, at the Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology, Univeristy of California, Berkeley).

    Administrative Information

    Acquisition Information

    The Hearst Mining Collection of Views by C.E. Watkins was given to the University of California in 1909 by Mrs. Phoebe Apperson Hearst. It was housed in the Hearst Mining Building until 1964, when it was transferred to The Bancroft Library.


    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 Haciendanear 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 lead 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 collection consists of 139 landscape views, 15 «" x 21", and nine 39" x 58" enlargements. Two of the latter are enlargements of smaller 15 «" x 21" photographs. The two remaining photographs in the collection are of the drawing, Celebration of Admission Day, October 29, 1850 and a painting of Sutter's Mill in 1867 by Charles Christian Nahl, the famous painter of California pioneer life. These two views were probably popular sales items in Watkins' studio. The 39" x 58" enlargements are of miscellaneous views in California. The 15 «" x 21" views are of three definite geographical areas : the Comstock Lode in Nevada; Nevada County in California; and two mining claims on the Feather River in California. All of these smaller views are of the Watkins New Series, (indicated in the listing as Watkins' no.) although some prints are not marked as such. None of the 39" x 58" enlargements are marked with Watkins' name but they can be shown to be his work by the character of the printed titles and by the fact that smaller photographs of the same views are definitely identified as Watkin's pictures. A complete list of the titles of the photographs in the Hearst Collection is presented below. In this list Watkins' own photograph number is shown (when appearing). All of the original photographs are albumen.
    Comstock Lode: Nevada's Comstock Lode was discovered in 1859 and was world famous for more than twenty years. Much has been written of the Comstock, but these seventy-seven photographs of the area at the height of the mining activity give by far the most accurate record of this important era in American history. From the numbering of the photographs, Watkins apparently visited the Comstock area on at least two different occasions; seventeen pictures (Watkins' numbers 410-426) were taken first. Sixty pictures (Watkins' numbers 1039-1103) were probably taken at a later date. That Watkins visited Virginia City on more than one occasion is obvious if a comparison is made between photos nos. 1 and 54 (U. C. numbers). In photo no. 1 a large wood pile can be seen in a view of the Sierra Nevada Hoisting Works. The wood pile is completely gone in the view shown in photo no. 54. The first of these views is also of interest in that it gives an indication of the vast quantities of timber which has to be transported from the distant Sierra to supply mine timbers and firewood for the boilers at each of the Comstock mines.
    The date of the trip to the Comstock during which photographs nos. 18-77 were taken is fixed by a picture in the Zazarac Saloon in Virginia City showing a panorama of Virginia City composed of photographs 75-77 (Watkins' numbers 1101-1103) and dated October 26, 1876. This panorama was undoubtedly prepared in Watkin's studio as the printed title is typical of all his work.
    Photograph no. 14 shows Virginia City rebuilt after the fire of 1875. Shacks and hovels had been replaced by substantial dwellings, handsome brick business premises and mansions of mine owners and superintendents. The International Hotel, in the precise center of this photograph, boasted many luxury apartments. The great Consolidated-Virginia mine, whose stacks appear to the right and behind the International, is also shown in photograph no. 73. It was the richest silver mine in the history of the world, producing $190,000,000 for Mackay, Fair, Flood and O'Brien, the Bonanza Kings.
    Photographs nos. 70 and 71 show the California Pan Mill with Virginia City and Mount Davidson in the background. This mill had eighty 1000-pound stamps, forty-six amalgamating pans and a daily capacity of close to five hundred tons of ore. This mill, owned by Mackay, Fair, Flood and O'Brien was the largest and most efficient of the Comstock reduction mills.
    A large number of the photographs of the Comstock show the stamping and reducing plants which stretched for miles along the Carson River above Carson City and the town of Empire. Without "Carson Water", the milling of Comstock ores would have been impossible. The water was used over and over again by successive mills along the river bank. Virginia and Truckee Railroad was constructed in 1869 to bring ore down from the mines to these mills on the Carson.
    Nevada County, California: After the river bars had been thoroughly worked over with pan, cradle and Long Tom, as illustrated by photograph nos. 79 and 80, the miners turned to the working of the extensive low-grade gravel deposits in the ancient stream beds which cut across the Mother Lode area. Working these deposits required a great deal of labor and capital and was usually undertaken by a stock company. The only economical method of working the low-grade gravel deposits was the hydraulic method of ground sluicing. It was necessary to construct a large number of reservoirs and extensive canal systems, thereby insuring a continuous supply of water to the mines during the dry summer. Early mining ditches diverted either directly from the streams or from natural lakes high up in the Sierra Nevada. As the demand for water increased, dams were constructed on these lakes to increase their storage capacity. Many of these first dams were simple framed structures as, for example, Faucherie Dam (photograph no. 105). Later most of the dams were constructed of masonry. The French (photographs nos. 107 and 108), English (photographs nos. 93-96), and Bowman (photographs 90-92) Dams are examples of early dry-masonry types, some of which with subsequent raised in their height, are still in use. When mining operations were at their peak during the 1870's, the famous San Juan Ridge of Nevada County was the center of operation of three mammoth hydraulic gold-mining companies: the Milton Mining and Water Co. of French Corral; the Eureka Lake and Yuba Canal Co. of North San Juan, and the North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Co. of North Bloomfield.
    Hydraulic mining eventually resulted in the filling of river beds with debris to the extent that it threatened agriculture throughout the great Central Valley of California. As the beds of streams such as the Sacramento, Yuba and Feather rose, an expensive construction of levees became necessary to protect agricultural lands from inundation and damage by sediment deposit. Mining and farming interests clashed. The destruction, on June 18, 1883, of the middle dam of the three English dams forming English Reservoir (see photographs nos. 93 and 95) involved what was probably the largest quantity of water ever set free at once from an artificial reservoir . Although no criminal was ever brought to trial, the explosion heard by the caretaker at the time of the failure of the dam indicates that it was maliciously destroyed.
    The result of this conflict between the two interests was legislation giving rise to the famous Sawyer Decision, 1884, which practically brought an end to hydraulic mining in California. Many hydraulic properties and their expensive investments were left almost valueless.
    Very few of the Watkins pictures of the Nevada County area now exist. The result of a commercial assignment, it is likely that only a limited number of prints were made before the glass plates were cleaned and reused. The year in which Watkins took his Nevada County pictures is established by the following article in the Mining and Scientific Press, November 7, 1871 : Photographic Mining Views --We had the pleasure a few days since, of examining some twenty photographic views recently taken of the North Bloomfield Gravel Mines. The pictures, which were taken by C. E. Watkins, of this city, are really masterpieces of the photographic art, and present the most perfect and lifelike representation of hydraulic mining which we have ever seen depicted on paper. The mines are shown from several different points, and distant views are given of the line of the company's ditches, their dams, reservoirs, etc.
    These views have been taken to accompany and illustrate an elaborate report upon the mines, which has been prepared by Mr. Attwood, M.E., who is acting in behalf of a company of English capitalists, with whom the owners of these mines are negotiating for the sale of the same. The accurate distinctness with which they are shown, in connection with the topography of the country, timber, etc., is really remarkable, and affords another instance of the value of the photographic art in aiding the engineer to describe the progress and condition of his work. It is perhaps superfluous for us to state in this connection that these are among the most valuable and extensive hydraulic mines in the state.
    Golden Gate and the Golden Feather Mining Claims, Feather River, California: These two companies were formed in the 1880's with English capital to extract gold from the gravel in the bed of the Feather River, a short distance upstream from the town of Oroville. To work the gravel, the entire river was diverted. In the Golden Gate claim the entire river flow was carried in a wooden flume 3,900 ft. in length when the discharge was below about 2500 cubic ft. per second (photograph no. 118). In the Golden Feather claim, the river was diverted from its normal bed by a 6000 ft. canal along the right bank (photograph no. 124). Pumps (photograph no. 137) kept the water level down in the river bed and the gravel was removed by Chinese laborers (photographs nos. 132 and 133). A detailed description of these claims appears in the 1893 report of the State Mineralogist. As in the case of the Nevada County views, Watkins apparently took the Feather River views as a commercial assignment, with the result that except for those in the Hearst collection, few prints now exist. The Bancroft Library has a clothbound folio (call no. : xffF862.3.W1397) containing drawings of the works on the claims and twenty-eight Watkins photographs ; some of the Watkins views in this folio are not included in the Hearst Collection.
    (From : The Early Pacific Coast Photographs of Carleton E. Watkins, by J. W. Johnson, Professor of Hydraulic Engineering, University of California Berkeley.)