Friday, July 19, 2013

Calling All Lovers of California History

A virtual postcard from Executive Director, Anthea Hartig:

Show your love for the California Historical Society and all we do to keep California’s rich and vibrant history a relevant part of our future.

Please consider making a tax-deductible gift today.

Keep the love for history flowing.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

William A. Leidesdorff Collection

These 1847 account books for Hawaiian and Indian sailors form a fascinating part of the California Historical Society’s William A. Leidesdorff Collection (MS 1277). Given to the Society in 1955 by Mr. and Mrs. K. K. Bechtel, they remind us of the ethnic and cultural diversity of early San Francisco, and the city’s historical interconnectedness with other Pacific Rim markets, even in the Mexican Period. (Leidesdorff himself was of mixed-race Dutch and West Indian ancestry.)

The accounts also provide a glimpse into the sailor’s life in pre-Gold Rush San Francisco, recording individual sailors’ names, dates shipped, wages advanced and earned, and goods used. Below are Leidesdorff’s accounts with the Indian sailor Simon and the Hawaiian sailor “Harry Oahu” – note that charges for grog and other goods appear to have been deducted from the men’s wages.

A finding aid for the collection, including a short biographical sketch of Leidesdorff, is available on the Online Archive of California:

Marie Silva, Archivist & Manuscripts Librarian

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Exaggeration Cards

Minnesota has Paul Bunyan and Babe, the Blue Ox. Florida has its gators, the world’s largest reptiles. And, of course, they say that everything is larger than life in Texas. But in California, home of the world’s tallest trees and an agricultural wonderland, it’s the plant life—cultivated or wild—that grows really, really big.

Image manipulations began long before the digital magic of Photoshop made it possible for everyone to become visual fantabulists and tellers of tall tales. A prime example can be seen in the exaggeration (tall tale) postcards that first appeared in Fresno in 1905. The appeal of outsized produce and livestock struck a chord throughout the West, where many printers began publishing “Bunyonesque cards utilizing props and darkroom legerdemain,” as Lewis Baer of the San Francisco Post Card Club has described the cards.

CHS’s exaggeration cards are pristine, never-scribbled-on, and never-mailed examples of the maker’s craft. They are mostly the productions of the San Francisco printer Edward H. Mitchell. Part of CHS’s Kemble Collections on WesternPrinting and Publishing, these and more postcards are accessible to researchers in the North Baker Research Library at our headquarters in San Francisco.

Type Specimens

This July the California Historical Society will welcome the Southern California Chapter of the American Printing History Association, meeting in San Francisco to coincide with the 2013 J. Ben Lieberman Lecture at the San Francisco Public Library featuring “Reproductive Arts in America: Lithography Challenges Letterpress; an illustrated talk with David Pankow.”

To celebrate we are sharing wonderful examples of type specimens from the Kemble Collections on Western Printing and Publishing. 

This bright and colorful sample comes from Wm. H. Page & Co.’s Specimens of Wood Type, published in 1868. The use of more than three colors, along with the addition of the gold color, makes this a particularly outstanding sample – and very fitting for Fourth of July celebrations!


Although the Kemble Collection has a special emphasis on printing and publishing in California and the West, the collection encompasses materials from all over the Western Hemisphere. Here is a type specimen from London’s Reed and Fox (late R. Besley & Co.) showing some of their more bold type fonts.


This delightful specimen from Marder, Luse & Co. of the Chicago Type Foundry demonstrates Grotesque and Old Style Ornamental fonts. These 19th century fonts were primarily used for decorative purposes and not typically used in text. Not only do these fonts display a stylistic flair but the text reads like fragments of poetry and is not without a bit of commentary!

This sample from the American Type Founders shows colorful sectional initial formers that incorporate animals, floral and vegetable motifs. The American Type Founders Company was a merger of 23 type foundries across the United States. Their California locations included Los Angeles and San Francisco. 
 Although the San Francisco branch was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire, it was replaced by a new five-story building at 820-822 Mission Street in 1907. 


The Continental Typefounders Association’s type specimen, published in 1930, shows a stylish type created by M. Cassandre. Cassandre operated a Parisian advertising agency, Alliance Graphique, and was known for his posters advertising travel and wine. He was also a typeface designer, creating the font Bifur in 1929.

To view any of these type specimens in the California Historical Society’s North Baker Library please ask for the following:
American Type Founders Company. Supplement to the American line type book. Boston, 1909.
Chicago Type Foundry. Specimen book of printing types, borders, brass rule, etc. furnished by Marder, Luse & Co. Chicago, 1874.
Continental Typefounders Association, Inc. Specimen book of continental types. New York, 1930.
Reed and Fox, Late Robert Besley & Co. Fann street letter foundry specimen book. London, 1873.
Wm. H. Page & Co.’s. Specimens of wood type. Greeneville, CT, 1868.

Jaime Henderson