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

  • <center><b>Bonhams<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>New York | June 11, 2019</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Faulkner, William. <i>The Sound and the Fury.</i> New York: Jonathan Cape, [1929]. First edition in dust jacket. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Trautz-Bauzonnet bindery. Shakespeare, William. Sonnets. 1901. 2 volumes. Printed on vellum and illuminated by Ross Turner. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Thompson, Kay. <i>Eloise at Christmastime.</i> New York: Random House, [1958]. First edition. In custom binding by Asprey. $2,000 to $3,000
    <center><b>Bonhams<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>New York | June 11, 2019</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Beardsley, Aubrey. <i>The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur.</i> 1893-94. 2 volumes. Contemporary painted vellum gilt by Chivers. $2,000 to $3,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Assisi, St. Francis. <i>The Canticle of Brother Sun.</i> Illuminated on vellum, for the Grolier Society. $6,000 to $9,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Taylor, Deems. <i>Walt Disney’s Fantasia.</i> New York: 1940. In custom binding by Asprey. $2,500 to $3,500
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> William Shakespeare, <i>Shakespeare’s Sonnets, In Two Parts,</i> limited Saint Dunstan edition, Oxford University Press, 1901. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Benjamin Graham & David L. Dodd, <i>Security Analysis,</i> first edition, inscribed by Graham to a Wall Street trader, NY, 1934. $18,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b><br>Ian Fleming, <i>Goldfinger,</i> first edition, inscribed to Sir Henry Cotton, MBE, London, 1959. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b><br>Ian Fleming, <i>The Man with the Golden Gun,</i> first edition, first state with the dust jacket, London, 1965. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Virginia Woolf, <i>The Voyage Out,</i> first American edition of the author’s first book, in rare dust jacket, NY, 1920. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Gabriel García Márquez, <i>Cien años de soledad,</i> Buenos Aires, 1967. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Mary Mapes Dodge, <i>Along the Way,</i> first edition, author’s copy, annotated in her hand, NY, 1879. $1,800 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> <i>The Dial: A Monthly Magazine for Literature, Philosophy and Religion,</i> first edition, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s copy, Cincinnati, 1860. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Gaston Leroux, <i>The Phantom of the Opera,</i> first American edition, first printing, New York, 1911. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Walt Whitman, <i>Leaves of Grass,</i> signed, Camden, 1876. $4,000 to $6,000.

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