HART--WATKINS. Photo album.
Lot 3477
Sold for US$ 82,750 inc. premium
Auction Details
Lot Details
Photograph album, oblong folio, 11 x 14 inches, half morocco backed pebbled cloth, 23 stiff cardboard leaves, containing approximately 350 mounted albumen silver prints, various sizes, on average 4 x 4 inches, with many 5 inch circular views and 2 7.5 x 9.5 inch prints of a house under construction, [San Francisco: circa 1880], album block separated at front hinge, spine separating at lower joint, opening leaves loose, occasional soiling and spotting, most Hart views denoted with his stereograph numbers in pencil at margins, generally very good.

An historically important album comprising approximately 350 albumen prints, almost 280 of which are apparently derived from the negatives of Alfred A. Hart and Carleton E. Watkins, primarily documenting the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad but also depicting diverse views of the Sierras and California, Nevada and Utah, circa 1865-1880. The album also provides a series of four dramatic and hitherto unrecorded photographic portraits of what may be Carleton E. Watkins, circa 1870 and 1880, although definitive identification is difficult in light of the fact that no other portraits of Watkins have survived from this period (with the exception of a cameo miniature). In any event, the album provides a significant documentary record of two of the most important photographers of the 19th century, and includes fine depictions of their breathtaking and revolutionary views of the American West in the 1860s and 70s.

Alfred A. Hart was a painter by profession, but was contracted by the Central Pacific Railroad to document the construction of the overland route through the Sierras. Hart had the direct blessing of Judge Crocker, and was able to halt work for periods of time in order to compose his photographic images, most of which were issued as a sequence of stereoviews. This album contains over 154 large format albumen prints out of the 364 original images from Hart's series of stereoviews produced during the construction of the railroad through the Sierras from 1866-1869, including the dramatic meeting of the rival Monarchs on May 10, 1869. Hart, an artist by profession, was also adept at dramatically recording the pristine landscape and life of the Paiute and Shoshone Indians as the railroad encroached into their lives. Although Hart's stereoviews are well recorded, many of the albumen prints here provide much broader viewpoints of their subjects than those normally truncated to fit stereographic cardstocks. The only other known album of albumen prints from Hart's negatives is housed at the California Society of Pioneers. As Hart's seminal documentary record of the construction of the railroard has survived almost exclusively in the form of small format stereoviews, this compilation of larger format albumen prints provides an invaluable record of the true breadth of Hart's photographic achievement.

Often lauded as the most important American photographer of the 19th century, Watkins prodigious photographic record of the American West is unrivalled for the period. This album, in addition to the Hart views reissued by Watkins, contains approximately 125 albumen prints from Watkins' own negatives. Some of the most famous and striking views of Yosemite, Mendocino, Lake Tahoe, the Farallones and San Francisco are represented here, many mounted in the typical circular format of other Watkins' albums. Some of Watkins' most famous images are represented, including "Looking down the Valley from Union Point, Yosemite," "The Half Dome from Glacier Point," "Bridal Vail," and "Yosemite from Mariposa Trail." In addition, there are a number of images here that are unidentified and may be unrecorded views from Watkins' lost negatives after the 1906 earthquake. A complete list of the identifiable Hart and Watkins prints is available upon request.

Among the unidentified prints are four striking portraits of an unknown sitter: three of a "cameraman," circa 1870, wearing an astonishing albumen-print covered suit and hat shaped as a camera, and a fourth portrait of the same subject, approximately 10 years older, in full Scottish attire.
There are only two known surviving photographs of Watkins: a distant shot of himself posing as a miner ["Primitive Mining, The Old Rocker" No. 3542] which he made for his children, and a late 1906 street scene following the San Francisco earthquake, neither of which are particularly helpful in identifying his facial features. However, a surviving Mezzars cameo portrait of Watkins in the Yosemite Park Museum collections, circa 1868-9, features Watkins in profile, and bears a striking resemblance to our sitter striking an identical pose on p. 38 of this album. Although an artist's rendition, his daughter Julia recalls that her father "'looked exactly like this cameo...," which is reproduced as the frontispiece to Peter Palmquist's book (59). Furthermore, the fourth (later) portrait features the unknown sitter in full Scottish attire, and Watkins' parents were both of Scottish descent, a heritage that he was particularly proud of (and the source of his bond with John Muir, according to Julia (Palmquist 61).
Additionally, the few portraits and views in the album not labelled at the lower margin are the four portraits of the unknown sitter, as would be consistent with the conjecture that the album was composed by or for Frances Sneed Watkins (see below), who would not need to label images of her own husband.
None of Watkins' negatives survived the 1906 Earthquake, but most of his photographs can be identified by the many reprints he issued for commercial purposes, as large format albumen prints and stereoviews. However, any self portraits would not likely have been issued commercially, and so these hitherto unrecorded, highly whimsical images may indeed be the only formal self-portraits of Watkins to have survived.

It appears consistent from internal evidence that the album was produced by someone in Watkins' studio in 1880. Watkins alone possessed the Hart negatives that he inherited in 1869 after Judge Crocker's heart attack allowed Collis Huntington to tranfer the CPRR-owned negatives from Hart to Watkins' studio. For several years, Watkins had been consistently reissuing Hart's images as stereoviews under his own imprint, and so an album of albumen prints derived from both sets of negatives would hardly be out of context. Indeed, the vast majority of identifiable views in the album derive directly from negatives that can be traced to Watkins' studio circa 1880. The date can be localised from several sources, including photographic portraits of several actresses who performed in San Francisco in the late 1870s and one print of San Jose that is dated 1880 by the compositor in the margin. In addition, despite the diversity of Watkins' images in the album, including subjects as diverse as the Farallone Islands, Utah, Vallejo and Mendocino, it does not include any Southern Pacific Railround prints, a journey he undertook in 1880 at the behest of Collis Huntington.
The 1880 estimate is also an auspicious clue to the album's possible compositor. Watkins had recently married Frances Sneed Watkins, a 22 year-old who was managing his Montgomery Street office while he was on the road. As the album is not presented as a typical work for a paying customer, and the roughly 65 non-Watkins and Hart prints usually depict prominent actresses, whimsical circus acts and sentimental subjects that often are at odds with the harder documentary edge of the Hart and Watkins' views, it appears to have been composed for a woman working in his office. A fine calligraphic hand has recorded the traditional Watkins titles below most prints, and so the album may have been designed as an aid to Ms. Sneed in her work at the studio. Additionally, the album concludes with two large format prints of a house under construction and at completion, which may have been their post-wedding residence. This conjecture is not without precedent, as Watkins is recorded to have made another album of his "best cabinet views" for his wife "Frankie," now housed at the Yosemite Museum (Palmquist 59). A final confirmation emerges from two portraits of a young woman (p. 11), also unidentified, which closely matches the only known photograph of Frances Sneed Watkins in the Bancroft Library (reproduced in Palmquist p. 54). Alternatively, the compositor may have been Sally Dutcher, an employee of his gallery and an avid outdoorswoman, the first to have ascended Half Dome. Ms. Dutcher's family is recorded to have moved to Oakland in the 1880s, and our album resurfaced in Oakland in 1985, and was sold by a dealer to the present consignor at that time.

Undoubtedly a highly important documentary record of two prominent photographers of California and the American West.
See illustrations.