Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Finding Aid for the Carleton Watkins collection of photographs, ca. 1867-1882
599  
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (122.34 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
 
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Organization and Arrangement
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Carleton Watkins collection of photographs,
    Date (inclusive): ca. 1867-1882
    Collection number: 599
    Creator: Watkins, Carleton E., 1829-1916
    Extent: 6 oversize boxes
    Repository: University of California, Los Angeles. Library. Department of Special Collections.
    Los Angeles, California 90095-1575
    Abstract: The collection consists of 136 photographs, with the majority being from Watkins's California mission series, Yosemite series, and pacific coast series. A few additional prints are from the Columbia River and Oregon series, studio portraits, and various images from the Southwest, such as Casa Grande, San Marino, New Almaden Mines, and Pasadena. Carleton E. Watkins was born in Oneonta, Oswego County, New York, on November 11, 1829. Watkins moved to California in 1854, where he eventually established his own photographic studio, then spent large portions of the summer traveling with his cameras throughout California. In 1861, Watkins visited the Yosemite Valley and made the first 18" x 22" landscape photographs in California. He also is also believed to have created the earliest photographs of the California Missions. Watkins died on June 23, 1916.
    Physical location: Stored off-site at SRLF. Advance notice is required for access to the collection. Please contact the UCLA Library, Department of Special Collections Reference Desk for paging information.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information

    Restrictions on Use and Reproduction

    Property rights to the physical object belong to the UCLA Library, Department of Special Collections. Literary rights, including copyright, are retained by the creators and their heirs. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine who holds the copyright and pursue the copyright owner or his or her heir for permission to publish where The UC Regents do not hold the copyright.

    Restrictions on Access

    COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE AT SRLF: Open for research. Advance notice required for access. Contact the UCLA Library, Department of Special Collections Reference Desk for paging information.

    Provenance/Source of Acquisition

    • Gift of Carl Dentzel, 1954
    • Gift of Anita and Gregory Carter, 1955
    • Gift of Martin R. Huberty, n.d.
    • UCLA Special Collections purchase, 1973.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Carleton Watkins collection of photographs (Collection 599). Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.

    Biography

    Carleton E. Watkins was born in Oneonta, Oswego County, New York, on November 11, 1829. He was the youngest of five children of a Scottish innkeeper. During his youth he became acquainted with Collis P. Huntington, who frequented his father's hotel. Soon after the discovery of gold, both young men went to California, where Huntington later became one of the Big Four who built the Central Pacific Railroad.
    In 1854, while working as a clerk in a store on Montgomery Street, Watkins met R. H. Vance, the daguerreotyper who had studios in San Francisco, San Jose and Sacramento. The employee at Vance's San Jose studio had suddenly quit and Vance asked Watkins if he would fill in until a permanent replacement could be found. Although he knew nothing of photographic processes, Watkins agreed. For the first few days he was simply the care-taker of the studio, but when Vance could not find a new operator, he instructed Watkins in coating the daguerreotype plates and making exposures. With only the briefest instructions, Watkins was able to make portraits and completely operated the gallery for a short period. In 1857 or 1858 Watkins returned to San Francisco where he established his own photographic studio for portraits and view photography. Watkins usually spent a large portion of the summer traveling throughout California, leaving his gallery and studio in the hands of an assistant. In 1858 or 1859 he visited the Mariposa Grove and was the first person to photograph the "Grizzly Giant." In 1861, Watkins visited the Yosemite Valley and made the first 18" x 22" landscape photographs in California (and possibly the world). He made many more trips to Yosemite during the 1860s and 1870s.
    In 1868 Watkins made his first trip to Oregon, where he made the first photographic reproductions of the Columbia River. Five years later, Watkins went to Utah with his wagon, team and photographic equipment on railroad cars. Thanks to his friend Collis P. Huntington, he traveled free. He was accompanied on this trip by close friend and artist William Keith, who made extensive use of Watkins photographs for many of his oil paintings.
    During the winter of 1871-72, Watkins expanded his San Francisco gallery (the Yosemite Gallery), which put an extra strain on his finances. When the Bank of California went under in 1874, Watkins lost his Yosemite Art Galley to competitors J.J. Cook and I.W. Taber. Not only did his competitors take over his Gallery, they took all of his negatives as well. Watkins then began the task of rebuilding his collection, which meant rephotographing many of the sites he had visited earlier in his career. "Watkins's New Series" of views replaced those lost in the foreclosure. Watkins did become reassociated with the Yosemite Gallery, first as a photographer, and later as manager, but never as the owner.
    Watkins went to the Comstock Lode, near Virginia City, Nevada, in 1876. It was probably during this trip that he met Frances Sneed, who later managed his Montgomery Street studio and became his wife on November 11, 1880 (Watkins's fiftieth birthday). They had two children: a daughter, Julia and a son, Collis.
    In 1880, Watkins went to Southern California for the first time and traveled along the line of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Later he went to the "End of the Track" and as far as Tombstone, Arizona. The photographs taken by Watkins on this trip represent some of the earliest views of San Bernardino, San Gabriel, Pasadena, Los Angeles and San Diego. On the way back to San Francisco, he followed the old overland stage road, traveling the greater part of the way in his wagon and photographing most of the Franciscan missions. These pictures constitute the earliest photographic collection of California Missions. On a second trip to the Northwest in 1890, Watkins made a series of stereoscopic views in Victoria, B. C. He extended this trip into Montana where he made 18" x 22" views of the Anaconda copper mines and other properties. His last large commercial job and long country trip was to photograph the development work of the Kern County Land Company near Bakersfield. He made seven hundred views using 8" x 10" dry plate negatives. In the late 1890s, Watkins began to photograph the Hearst Hacienda near Pleasanton for Phoebe Apperson Hearst, but ill health prevented him from completing the assignment.
    Watkins was in the process of negotiating with Stanford University for the sale of his plates, photographs, etc. when the 1906 earthquake struck San Francisco. By this time, Watkins was partially blind, in poor health and experiencing financial difficulties. He had been living with his family in his studio on the top floor of a building on the southeast corner of Ninth and Market Streets. Immediately following the quake, Watkins's wife and daughter went to the refugee camp at the Presidio. Watkins was led by his son to the home of his old friend, C. B. Turrill, who had assisted Watkins financially in the past. Watkins's entire collection was destroyed in the fire which followed the quake. He was shocked by the loss of his life's work and shortly thereafter retired to his small ranch near Capay in Yolo County. The ranch had been deeded to Watkins through the offices of Collis P. Huntington of the Southern Pacific Railroad for his faithful, but unpaid, service to the railroad.
    Watkins never recovered from the shock of losing his entire collection in the San Francisco fire. He managed to live at the ranch with his family until it became necessary to have him committed to the Napa State Hospital at Imola, California in 1910. He died on June 23, 1916 at the age of eighty-seven and was buried on the hospital grounds.
    (from: The Early Pacific Coast Photographs of Carleton E.Watkins, by J. W. Johnson, Professor of Hydraulic Engineering, University of California Berkeley, and The Life and Photography of Carleton E.Watkins, by Peter E. Palmquist.)

    Scope and Content

    The collection consists of 136 photographs: 85 albumen mammoth prints, 52 assorted smaller prints (primarily cabinet and boudoir cards), and 5 non-original copies of Watkins photographs. The majority of the photographs are from Watkins's California mission series, Yosemite series, and pacific coast series. Watkins's is believed to be the earliest known photographer to create images of the California missions, and the collection includes most of the missions found in the state. A few additional prints are from the Columbia River and Oregon series, studio portraits, and various images from the Southwest, such as Casa Grande, San Marino, New Almaden Mines, and Pasadena.

    Organization and Arrangement

    Arranged in the following series:
    1. Boudoir and cabinet cards (Box 1)
    2. Missions (Boxes 2-3)
    3. Various (Box 4)
    4. Yosemite (Boxes 5-6)

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
    Catholic church--missions--photographs.
    Yosemite National Park--photographs.