Friday, August 20, 2010

Gold in Rough Times

The Zamorano 80 Revisited: A Collector’s Update of A Classic Work. / Gordon J. Van De Water. Featherwood Press, Diamond Bar, Calif., 2010. 513 p., with 15 Illustrations, Appendices, Bibliography, and Index.

Imagine the richness of our times, being able to read history electronically or in paper, depending on our disposition in the moment, and to have the inside story from a book collector’s point of view! Such is possible following the introduction to our vast legacy in The Zamorano 80 Revisited: A Collector’s Update of A Classic Work. Author Gordon Van De Water explains that although most of the titles are rare and can only be viewed as first editions and read at special libraries, some of the material is also available on the Internet or has been reprinted. Van De Water’s book is written to illuminate the special collection created by the Zamorano Club, published in 1945. The Club’s purpose was to represent the history of published books about California, from just before the Gold Rush (1849-1853) and forward to the early twentieth century.

Rather than simply providing a list of book titles and authors, Van De Water quotes from each of the 80 books selected by the Zamorano Club, encouraging the reader’s curiosity with sample paragraphs. Book number 26 of the Zamorano 80 is Richard Henry Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast, A Personal Narrative of Life at Sea, first published by Harper & Brothers, New York, 1840. Van De Water says of the value of Dana’s journal:

“… the book’s permanent value comes from the descriptions of the life and times of the Californios as witnessed by a young, though well educated, common seaman… “ p. 125.

Dana is quoted describing the town of Monterey, as “… the pleasantest and most civilized-looking place in California… that the inhabitants built around a Presidio for protection.” p. 126. As he illustrates, the society was shaped by arms and religion: “The common [houses] have two or three rooms which open into each other, and are furnished with a bed or two, a few chairs and tables, a looking glass, a crucifix… and small daubs of paintings enclosed in glass, and representing some miracle or martyrdom.” p. 127.

The Zamorano Club’s list of books, The Zamorano 80, captured of the essence of California in non-fiction and has been the celebrated bibliography of significant events of the past 150 years. Mark Twain, for example, wrote of his travels in Nevada, California and the Sandwich Islands in Roughing It, first published in 1872. This literature, indicative of life mostly for newcomers in the early 1800s, describes the momentous fusion of pan-European, Asian and American cultures as forming the character of the new state on the West Coast. Initially California was a Spanish territory, governed by Mexico and inspired by the French, Russian, American Indian and other traders who came by sea and overland routes to the West Coast. To make a comprehensive study of the region’s character and influences, consult The Zamorano 80. Many of the works have been reprinted recently and are available at public libraries and online. Since there were 80 original book titles in the selection, writers have proposed 20 titles to make an even 100; recently, some writers proposed important works in the late twentieth century that are relevant to the state’s evolution and current history.

Explantion of terms used:
Gold Rush: American Memory Project at the Library of Congress page with details: Early California History: An Overview including early people of the region, Spanish and Mexican California, the Gold Rush period and other topics about the region as a state.

Roughing It: an expression that means to be without comfort and conveniences, used by Mark Twain as a title to his book describing his travels in a then under-populated West coast and voyage to Hawaii.

Books in the Los Angeles Maritime Museum Research Library are available in circulation for Museum members. See the book Gold, Silk, Pioneers & Mail : from the California Gold Fields to the China Trade, the Story of Pacific Mail Steamship Company by Robert J. Chandler and Stephen J. Potash, and other accounts of early California in our online catalog.

Merchant ships: see expertly built models at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum.

Learn more about California history at the California State Archives, including the state constitutions, Family Histories, Oral Histories, Spanish and Mexican Land Grants, and Photographic Collections.

Archives and special collections are available to the public at the National Archives, Pacific Region, the National Park Service, California, and the Autry National Center of the American West.

Note other books on the subject of California history at: University of California Press and University of Nevada Press .

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