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  • The Cover
  • Judith Overmier and Larisa Somsel

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Bookplate courtesy of the California Historical Society

It is "one of the most striking allegorical representations of the great migration," wrote Carl Irving Wheat (1892–1966) about the small, round woodcut that appears on the 7.5-cm-by-10.5-cm bookplate of the California Historical Society, shown above.1 The image is of a pioneer family on a peak in the Sierra Nevada looking westward over California toward the ocean and the setting sun. Theartist and woodcutter of that picture, which first appeared from April 1854 to December 1856 on the front of the Pioneer: or, California Monthly, are unknown. The visual theme of the picture was a popular [End Page 562] one of the period; its best-known expression is the 20-by-30-foot mural titled Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way (Westward Ho!) painted by Emanual Gottlieb Leutze (1816–68) in 1861 on a stairwell wall of the U.S. Capitol.

In any case, Wheat was so taken with the image that he adapted it for his personal bookplate. Wheat added the words "Westward the Course of Empire—" to his bookplate, which is one of those featured in Clare Ryan Talbot's Historic California in Bookplates. She comments that Wheat found "a printer's crossline which had been brought around the Horn" and, after a search, the Bodoni type used to add both the "Westward" quote and the words "Ex Libris Californicis Carl I. Wheat."2

Carl Irving Wheat became a member of the California Historical Society in 1924, a director in 1926, and chairman of the publication committee in 1927. One of his responsibilities was the editorship of the Quarterly, of which he was editor for six years, so perhaps it's not surprising that the "striking allegorical representation" eventually showed up on its cover. Wheat was an historian and bibliophile. In addition to his California Historical Society activities he was also a member of the Zamorano Club, one of the founders of the Roxburghe Club of San Francisco and of the Friends of the Bancroft Library at the University of California–Berkeley. He was the winner of theHenry Rupp Wagner Memorial Award in 1959, given to him for"distinguished authorship in Western history," his multivolume work Mapping the Trans-Mississippi West being an excellent example of his scholarship.

In March 1940 the California Historical Society's Quarterly, then edited by George Laban Harding (1893–1976), began to use the amazingly resilient and still appropriate small, round, woodcut image on its cover. The Society also began using it on its letterhead.3 The image is presently used on the bookplate of the California Historical Society's North Baker Research Library, named for North Baker (1912–91), once president of the board of trustees of the Society and strong supporter of the library. The bookplate of the California Historical Society establishes that the Society was founded in 1871 and that at one time it had branches in San Francisco, San Marino, and Los Angeles. The building that housed the Society was destroyed—burned—in the earthquake and fire of 18 April 1906. The Society was revived in 1922.

The sense of appreciation of the history of California and the West that is portrayed in the image on the bookplate of the California Historical Society's North Baker Research Library is evident in its collections and services. The library collection includes more than [End Page 563] 35,000 volumes of books and pamphlets on the history of California from 1535 to the present. It also contains large collections of printed ephemera, 3,000 maps, 700 posters and broadsides, pamphlets, 500,000 photographs, and 2,500 periodicals, all relating to California. The manuscript collection holds nearly 4,000 items, including diaries and letters of early settlers and miners, through twentieth-century records documenting California's social, cultural, economic, and political history and development.

Undoubtedly, the most extraordinary of the library's holdings are the Kemble Collections, named after Edward Cleveland Kemble (1828–86), an early California journalist, printer, publisher, and newspaper historian. The Kemble Collections contain the Harding Collection and...


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