The Yosemite Book

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Josiah Dwight Whitney Jr. (1819-1996), The Yosemite Book: A Description of the Yosemite Valley and the Adjacent Region of the Sierra Nevada … (New York: Julius Bien, 1868). Western Americana (WA) 2008- in process

It is hard to overestimate the importance of The Yosemite Book in the history of the United States. Only 250 copies of this lavish quarto volume were published, with 24 albumen photographs by Carleton E. Watkins (1829-1916) and 4 by William Harris. Watkins made the photographs on an 1866 trip to Yosemite with the Geological Survey of California and Harris made his on a trip the following year.

Watkins’ spectacular photographs record the beauty of Yosemite, not the geography or topography required of other survey artists, and his images found an immediate audience. Watkins used 8 x 10 inch glass-plate negatives, which had to be developed in California and then, carried back across the country to the photographer’s studio in Washington D.C. to be printed.

According to photography historian Peter Paulquist, “The task of printing 250 copies of each of the 28 negatives, a total of 7,000 individual prints, was accomplished by Watkins and his staff in the winter of 1867-68. Assuming that Watkins received at least $6 per book, and that all the books were sold, he would have netted $1,500 for [one year’s] work.”

For more information, see Martha A. Sandweiss, Print the Legend: Photography and the American West (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002). Marquand Library (SAPH) TR23.6 .S25 2002.

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Yosemite has not changed, well not much, today the Park is just being loved to death. Too many people and too many vehicles.
Ted Mac