San Francisco, 1849. Drawn on the spot by Henry Firks.
17.5 x 32.5 in (44.45 x 82.55 cm)
A remarkable snapshot of San Francisco in the early days of the gold rush, this is a fine example of Henry Firks' 1849 drawing of the city, printed in 1886 by Schmidt Label and Lithograph and published by Max Burkardt. It is among the most recognizable views of the city in its early history.
A Closer LookFirks' view is oriented towards the northwest, looking from the perspective of Market Street. An index at bottom corresponds to structures and ships labeled throughout. The harbor, a significant portion of which (named Yerba Buena Cover) was later filled in, hosts a variety of military and merchant ships (including the Philadelphia, on fire). While the harbor was indeed busy importing a steady stream of people and supplies, the density of ships here might also be due to the fact that many were simply abandoned by their crews, who decided that gold prospecting was superior to a life at sea.
On land, various businesses and institutions, such as they were, are labeled in detail. Telegraph Hill dominates the background, while Russian Hill is seen at left. Notably absent is a representation of the hills of Marin County to the north. The fairly ad hoc, rough-and-tumble nature of early San Francisco is alluded to by the tents at right in the foreground, and elsewhere.
Firks' view may be the first of the city in the early days of the gold rush and after being renamed from Yerba Buena to San Francisco. It is among a group of early views of San Francisco first published between 1848 and 1850 and was so enduring that it continued to be reissued in several states for decades, with additional details added continuously. As noted at bottom, this state 'corrected' elements of earlier printings thanks to a 'committee of pioneers,' whose own buildings are noted in the view.
San Francisco during the Gold RushSan Francisco's population grew from roughly 1,000 in early 1848 to 25,000 by the end of 1849, drawing in migrants from throughout the world. To give a sense of the rapid growth of the city, the U.S. Customs House, seen here at left (number 43), was located in Portsmouth Square, which in this view was the edge of town but within a few years would be squarely at the center of it. Fairly typical of other boomtowns that sprang up along with the gold rush, the city was rowdy, dirty, and violent. Fires were common, with the 'Great Fire' of May 3-4, 1851, burning down some three-quarters of the city.
Publication History and CensusThis view was drawn by Henry Firks in 1849. Little is known about Firks aside from this work, which was reissued in several states into the late 19th century. The present view was printed in 1886 by Schmidt Label and Lithograph Company and published by Max Burkardt. It is only cataloged among the holdings of the Library of Congress and the California State Library. Scarce to the market.
Very good. Toning and minor discoloration visible in some areas.