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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 ( A detailed guide to the entire collection is available on the Online Archive of California (

Marie Silva
Archivist & Manuscripts Librarian

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Type Tuesday

Ever find yourself facing off your computer screen, staring at the stark, white, virtual paper of your preferred word processing software, wondering what type face best reflects the meaning of your message? Do you find yourself wondering if Comic Sans is appropriate for your curriculum vitae? Does Bradley Hand IT really capture that easy, breezy feeling you are hoping to convey in the invitation to your pool party?

For those befuddled by the abundance of type faces there is How to Select Type Faces and How to Use them Correctly brought to you by Intertype Corporation of Brooklyn, New York.

From the introductory chapter: “Every moving force on earth is intangible and invisible – gravity, electricity, elasticity, the expansive power of steam, the dilation of water just before freezing, the explosiveness of dynamite. All we ever see of these forces are their effects on the vehicles through which they operate. In type, the design itself is merely the vehicle by which the spirit is made known to us.” 

The pamphlet goes on to summarize the character and feel of various traditional type faces and offers suggestions for paper that best coveys the lines and balance of the type.

Still fretting over the appropriate type face for your curriculum vitae? Perhaps you should consider Bookface font whose "fine, sturdy intergrity adds much to its always sunny geniality and friendliness."

Jaime Henderson, Archivist

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Type Tuesday - Charles Proctor Kimball and his Noisy Carrier

Like many East Coast transplants to Gold Rush era San Francisco, Charles Proctor Kimball's earliest attempts at success in California went unfulfilled. Mining on the Yuba River yielded little, and his attempts to offer San Franciscans express mail to Sacramento and to establish a city delivery post also proved unsuccessful. In 1850 Kimball opened a small one-room shop on San Francisco's Long Wharf, where, as newspaper crier, he composed jingles to deliver the daily news. This little shop became known as the Noisy Carrier Publishing Hall and served variously as a publishing house, an outbound mail deposit firm and a book and stationery store hawking everything from finely bound books, out-of-town newspapers and pencils to shells and sundries. Kimball would lure customers with loud placards and banners. Fortuitously for Kimball, the Noisy Carriers shop initially proved quite successful.

The following lettersheets, published by Noisy Carrier and sold in the store, served for letter writers as a way share with their contacts both their personal going-ons and also events and popular stories taking place in the always lively San Franicsco. This first lettersheet depicts Long Wharf, where the Noisy Carrier Publishing Hall resided. 

Success can sometimes be fleeting, and such was the case for Kimball. By 1857, the Noisy Carrier no longer enjoyed the prosperity of its previous years. Here is a receipt for 100 envelopes and one bottle of ink purchased at the Noisy Carrier's close out sale in June of 1859. 

To learn more about the California Historical Society's lettersheets please take a look at the California lettersheet collection finding aid available on the Online Archive of California. Digital images of many of our lettersheets will soon be available on our Flickr Commons page.

Jaime Henderson, Archivist 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Straight Ashbury Viewing Society

The Bay Area has long provided experimental filmmakers with an embracing enclave in which to share their films with eager, appreciative audiences. This early flyer for the Straight Ashbury Viewing Society, most likely from 1966, advertises a non-profit film club screening 8 and 16 millimeter film. By the looks of this flyer the fledgling film society seemed pretty attuned to the impact many of their featured filmmakers would have on American cinema.

San Francisco Viewing Society from the CHS San Francisco Ephemera Collection

The society’s first program offers some of the major heavies of 1960s American experimental film, including Jonas Mekas, Stan Brakhage and Jack Smith, who writer and director John Waters called “the only underground filmmaker”.

The Straight Ashbury Viewing Society also showcased the work of Harry Smith, a filmmaker and ethnomusicologist who is most widely recognized for his 1952 Anthology of American Folk Music records which documented early American music recordings originally released in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Many of the other artists whose works were screened by the society are well known for their contributions to contemporary American art and film including Andy Warhol, Kenneth Anger (Scorpio Rising, Invocation of My Demon Brother) Bruce Conner (known also for his photography, sculpture, collage and painting),  Shirley Clarke, an Academy Award winning documentarian and co-signer of the 1961 manifesto “Statement for a New American Cinema,” and Albert and David Maysles, direct cinema documentarians who created Salesman and Gimme Shelter (along with Charlotte Zwerin) and Grey Gardens. Both Salesman and Grey Gardens are included in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

The Straight Ashbury Viewing Society flyer also lists screenings of the work of San Francisco filmmakers George and Mike Kuchar, Robert Nelson (both George Kuchar and Robert Nelson were San Francisco Art Institute faculty), Ben Van Meeter, known for the psychedelic imagery demonstrated in his home movie footage of the San Francisco Trips festival and the Human Be-In held in Golden Gate Park and Bruce Baille, who along with Ben Van Meeter, Bruce Conner, Robert Nelson, Larry Jordan and Lenny Lipton, started Canyon Cinema, Inc., owned and operated by filmmakers to distribute their independent films.

Although many of these filmmaker’s works are not widely accessible, some are available to view on the Internet, including Stan Vanderbeck’s Breathdeath, shown on the first night of programming at the Straight Ashbury Viewing Society on Friday, July 22nd, 1966.

Jaime Henderson, Archivist

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Type Tuesday - Nelson C. Hawks

At the end of the nineteenth century, there were dozens of typefoundries in America, selling metal type to printers who took care of all the printed matter that people read, from newspapers and magazines to books and timetables.
   The Pacific States Typefoundry was incorporated in January 1896 "with a full corps of dummy officers and directors," according to William Loy (writing as "Stylus" in The Paper World). The business had been sold to Palmer & Rey of San Francisco by Marder, Luse of Chicago but was carried on separately to give the impression of a rival concern. Behind it was the well-known wrangler Nelson Crocker Hawks (1840–1929). Hawks, a native of Milwaukee, had come to San Francisco as agent for Marder, Luse in 1874 and set up in competition to the Scotch foundry of Miller & Richard, who had a branch in town. In their house organs they regularly threw dirt, claiming the other had been recalled or was going out of business.
   Hawks was soon denounced in The Inland Printer for selling complete "printing kits" to amateurs who set up small press businesses to sell stationery, letterheads, business cards, wedding invites, and such ephemera, and undercut the larger union shops.
   While the foundry was essentially a branch, it did produce original designs, and these were cut by Gustave Schroeder (born in Berlin in 1861) who came to America and cut type for many foundries before settling in Mill Valley in 1891, where he enjoyed rambling on Mt Tam in his free time.
   The original type faces that Schroeder cut for Pacific States include Aldus Italic (4 sizes), Sierra (8 sizes), 18 point French Old Style No 2, and Victoria Italic. These are shown in the specimen book -- a unique form of literature. Typical late nineteenth-century American type specimen books were composed in a wild stream-of-consciousness by the compositor, consequently they read like strange Dadaist manifestos. As Joey de Vivre said of graffiti artists, "They have nothing to say but an overwhelming need to say it"! The same goes for typefounders showing off their new types.

   George L. Harding, the first librarian of the Kemble Collection at CHS met Hawks in the 1920s, and asked him to identify the pages in the Pacific States specimen book that he had personally composed, literally written and typeset at the same time. The CHS copy has the pencil notation "NCH" on the corner of these pages, and they are the only certain attributions to these texts we have, though it is pretty certain that the wild books from the Philadelphia Foundry of MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan were concocted by Thomas W. MacKellar.

   Hawks is famous in the history of printing and typography for suggesting the uniform sizes of type bodies to his employer Marder, Luse. After the Great Fire of Chicago in 1871, Hawks suggested to John Marder he adopt a standard Pica of one sixth of an inch. He prudently took MacKellar's pica as his basis, as MacKellar ran the most successful foundry in America. It took a few years but eventually all thirty or so of the American typefounders agreed, and by 1887 the modern American point system was widespread. In 1918 Hawks published a pamphlet explaining the system from his Island City Press in Alameda. One advantage of the standardized point system was that printers could build complex layouts with differing sizes of type and spacing material and it would hold together through uniform bodies. While we still use the same system today, computers can only deal in mathematical exactness so the point is 1/72nd of an inch, exactly, not approximately, as it was in Hawks' day.

Further Reading:
"Explanation of the Point System of Printing Type with Specimens" by Nelson C. Hawks, Island City Press, Alameda, California, 1918
Alastair Johnston, Alphabets to Order: The Literature of Nineteenth-century Typefounders' Specimens, British Library, 2000
William E. Loy, Nineteenth-century American Designers & Engravers of Type, Oak Knoll Press, 2009

Alastair Johnston 

Friday, September 6, 2013

San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge March

This sheet music for Charles W. Kremer's piece San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge March commemorated the 1936 opening of bridge and was dedicated to its Chief Engineer, C.H. Purcell. 

This week Bay Area residents have been celebrating the opening of the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge and have been wowed by the spectacular views of the San Francisco cityscape and the Oakland Hills. Have these vistas inspired any musical musings honoring our new Bay Bridge? 

To view more of the California Historical Society's sheet music you can check out the California Sheet Music Project or visit CHS' North Baker Research Library. 

Jaime Henderson

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

September 9, Admission Day

On September 9, 1850, California became the thirty-first entry into the Union. Admission Day has been observed on both the state and national stage. On September 9, 1924, President Coolidge ordered the Bear Flag flown over the White House in honor of California’s admittance to the Union. In 1976, Governor Edmund G. Brown vetoed a measure that sought to remove its observance as a state holiday. Admission Day remained an official holiday until 1984, when Governor George Deukmejian signed changed its observance to a “personal” option. On September 9, 2012, the newly re-elected Governor Brown proclaimed the day a legal state holiday.

Shown here are two examples of materials held in the California Historical Society Collection. 

The lettersheet, Grand Admission Celebration, Portsmouth Square, Oct. 29 1850, sold by Cook & Le Count Montgomery St. (Baird-90; Charles O. Brewster papers MS 213), commemorates San Francisco’s impending celebration of California’s statehood, with San Jose as the first capitol city. 

The child’s cap, gift of Mrs. Marie-Desiree Curtis in 1951, was worn by a very young Mary Eliza Davis (1845–1929), the first child born in San Francisco of the newly dominant Euro-Americans, when she was “Queen of the 1850 Admission Day Parade.” Davis’s grandfather was George Yount, the first Euro-American permanent settler in Napa Valley and the namesake for the city of Yountville.

A multitude of materials related to Admission Day and its subsequent anniversaries are available for access to researchers in the NorthBaker Research Library at the Society’s headquarters in San Francisco. 

Cheryl Maslin
Registrar & Collections Manager

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Type Tuesday

Welcome to Type Tuesdays! Each Tuesday we will feature materials from the California Historical Society’s Kemble Collections on Western Printing and Publishing. Today we offer a selection from typographer Dan X. Solo’s typeface calendar from 1972. 

Dan X. Solo of Oakland had an obsession for type. He didn't start out that way, though having a middle initial "X" probably tuned him into the oddities of the alphabet from an early age. He was first of all a stage magician. He had a rich deep voice and a waxed mustache that made him look the part. He had worked as a radio announcer beginning in World War II but after 20 years wanted a less hectic life, so he decided to fall back on his hobby of collecting antique typefaces. To support his hobby he made proofs of 1000 metal typefaces and sent them to ad agencies. His timing was perfect: after the uniform dullness of the 1950s, there was a growing interest in using Victorian types in advertising work. On the East Coast there was Morgan Press with their wood type collection and T. J. Lyons who also made repro-proofs for advertising. Within a decade Solo had amassed over 6000 fonts of type, but he made a wise move. Rather than proofing the types, some of which were badly worn or missing characters, he converted them to film. This way he wouldn't run out of sorts and could provide crisp camera-ready art more easily. Soon his types were widespread and he began sending complete alphabets to Dover Books who produced whole series of books of Victorian alphabets, Art Deco alphabets, quaint cuts, etc. from the Solo collection.

To view more Dan X. Solo material, visit the North Baker Research Library at the California Historical Society. 

Alastair Johnston and Jaime Henderson