Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2004 Issue

First Impressions of a California Newspaper: 1850

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Only great optimists found publications. San Francisco, in 1850, had more than its share.


By Bruce McKinney

If you want to understand a place at a particular time start with an examination of its newspapers. I did just this recently reading the first issue of the Illustrated California News. Vol. 1, No. 1 published on September 1, 1850. It was a short-lived San Francisco newspaper that saw its mission as reporting northern Californian events and disseminating the news around the world for it was mostly an “export paper,” one intended to carry the news of northern California to the outside world. It provides a fascinating picture and one that is available to all AEM readers as the full text and all images of this issue are published here as an attachment. At 9,773 words it takes about an hour to read cover to cover. Only six issues were published: the last on December 1, 1850. It was the 17th newspaper to commence publication in what is now the State of California. The first published was The Californian, at Monterey, on August 15th, 1846. The first San Francisco newspaper, The California Star, commenced publishing on January 9, 1847.

Gold was discovered north of San Francisco at Sutter’s Mill in January 1848. When in 1849 the world began to descend the term ‘49ers’ was born. The following year The Illustrated California News was established in San Francisco to carry the news of local events to the world. The Illustrated California News, the 10th newspaper in four years to be established in San Francisco would be short lived, as would be most of the others. As a newspaper the emphasis was on “immediate,” rather than lasting. Nevertheless the editors’ selection of stories and their slant leave to posterity an indelible impression of events and values of that time.

The proprietors chose a good time to start. There was plenty of news. The lead story is the recounting of a memorial parade (procession) and funeral oration staged to honor President Zachary Taylor who died in Washington, D.C. on July 9th. No where in this edition is the President’s first name, dates of birth and death mentioned. “President” is slipped into the body of the text, the editors simply forgetting to mention some of the essential facts. He is, in this newspaper’s headline, simply General Taylor on the apparent assumptions that everyone knew who he was and that all and sundry would agree that his highest achievement was the rank of General rather than his other title, President. Apparently, what John Nance Garner would say about the Vice Presidency in the 1930s was true of the Presidency eighty years earlier.

In the mourning parade there is a section for old timers. To quality you had to have arrived in California at least three years earlier, a reminder that most of the population was very new. Every male seems to have been invited to participate as even the sailors on the ships in port are accorded a place. An examination of the order of march suggests a certain pecking order, the lodges and orders coming first and the various and sundry foreign residents last. There isn’t however a single mention of a woman. Feminism, strongly established in San Francisco today, was not yet in evidence.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.
  • <center><b>Arader Galleries<br>April Auction<br>April 4, 2020</b>
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> MITCHELL, John (1711-1768). A Map of the British and French Dominions in North America. Copperplate engraving with original hand color. London, 1755. $250,000 to $350,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AUDUBON, John James (1785 - 1851). Brown Pelican (Standing), Plate 251. Aquatint engraving with original hand color. London, 1827-1838. $175,000 to $225,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AUDUBON, John James (1785 - 1851). Fish Hawk or Osprey, Plate 81. Aquatint engraving with original hand color. London: 1827-1838. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <center><b>Arader Galleries<br>April Auction<br>April 4, 2020</b>
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> GONZALES DE MENDOZA, Juan (1545 - 1618). <i>The Historie of the great and mightie kingdome of China…</i> London, 1588. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> VERBIEST, Ferdinand (1623-1688). [World Map] Kun-Yu Ch'uan-Tu. Engraved twelve sheet map with vertical sections joined to form six sheets. Korea, Seoul, c. 1860. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> SANGGI, Chong (1678-1752). Korean Atlas. Manuscript map on mulberry bark paper. C. 1750-1790. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <center><b>Arader Galleries<br>April Auction<br>April 4, 2020</b>
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AUDUBON, John James (1785 - 1851). Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Plate 66. Aquatint engraving with original hand color. London, 1827-1838. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> AKERMAN, Anders (1721-1778). & AKREL, Frederik (1779-1868). Pair of Celestial and Terrestrial Globes. Stockholm, c. 1800. 23 inch diameter, each. $60,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Arader Galleries, Apr. 4:</b> BENNETT, Lieut. William Pyt (d. in action, 1916). AN IMPORTANT AND APPARENTLY UNPUBLISHED SERIES OF GELATIN SILVER PHOTOGRAPHS OF LHASA AND TIBET TAKEN DURING THE CELEBRATED YOUNGHUSBAND MISSION OF 1904. $60,000 to $80,000

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