Monday, September 30, 2013

California Lettersheet Collection


Prospecting on Feather River, California Lettersheet Collection, Kemble Spec Col 09, courtesy, California Historical Society, Kemble Spec Col 09_B208
This exquisite lettersheet is part of the California Historical Society's California Lettersheet Collection. Lithographed and published by San Francisco's Britton & Rey, it recalls Dame Shirley's evocative description of the Feather River, from her Letter the Seventh of 1851:

"It is impossible, my sister, for any power of language, over which I have command, to convey to you an idea of the wild grandeur and the awful magnificence of the scenery in this vicinity. This fork of the Feather River comes down very much as the water does at Lodore, now gliding along with a liquid measure like a river in a dream, and anon bursting into a thousand glittering foam-beads over the huge rocks, which rise dark, solemn, and weird-like in its midst. The crossings are formed of logs, often moss-grown. Only think how charmingly picturesque to eyes wearied with the costly masonry or carpentry of the bridges at home!"

Downieville, Sierra County, Cal., California Lettersheet Collection, Kemble Spec Col 09, courtesy, California Historical Society, Kemble Spec Col 09_B059.    
Another gorgeous example of the Gold Rush lithograph, this image of Downieville was first sketched by a woman artist, Mrs. M. N. Horton [Herton?]. 
[John Smith’s Story], Hiram Hurlbut papers, MS Vault 32, courtesy, California Historical Society, MS Vault 32_002.
This lettersheet, more crudely executed, illustrates the cautionary tale of John Smith, who travels to California, makes a "pile," loses it gambling, reforms, rebuilds his fortune, and returns home. In case the vignettes fail to convince, Homer Hurlbut has contributed his own pithy advice (in the upper left-hand corner): "Mind your Mother. Keep this clean til you see me." Words for all time, indeed.

These, and other lettersheets selected for their beauty, humor, or rarity, have been digitized and are available on the Flickr Commons (http://www.flickr.com/photos/chs_commons/sets/72157635500028415/). A detailed guide to the entire collection is available on the Online Archive of California (http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/c8rx9dfv/).

Marie Silva
Archivist & Manuscripts Librarian
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