Published: May 10, 2022
BERKELEY, CALIF. – On April 21, PBA Galleries offered a small but highly important group of rare maps, views and pictorial letter sheets relating to the early history and later development of the city of San Francisco. The important assemblage of graphic and cartographic material from the Charles Fracchia collection, numbering just over 130 lots, was gathered over half a century by one of the leading historians of the city. The exceptional results often greatly exceeded the published estimates, but many of the items were of such rarity, even unique, that the estimates mostly served as starting points. In the end, all 134 lots sold, a “white glove” auction, the first in the 30-year history of the galleries.
Charles Fracchia, who passed away in the summer of 2021, was the founder of the San Francisco Historical Society and one of San Francisco’s most respected historians. He led historical walking tours for two generations of San Franciscans; taught history courses at the University of San Francisco, San Francisco State and City College; and lectured at venues throughout the city. He was the author of numerous books and was publisher of the historical journal The Argonaut and quarterly newsletter Panorama. He was an active member of various clubs such as the Book Club of California and the Association Nationale de Bibliophilie, and was one of the founders of Rolling Stone magazine.
The bidders were passionate about the Fracchia collection, and in particular lithographs and views of San Francisco. One example of this is “Vue de San Francisco en 1860,” a tinted lithograph looking toward Yerba Buena Island, that sold for $10,625, twice the high estimate. In the same category, a George Baker lithograph of San Francisco went to a lucky bidder for $11,785.
The collection featured numerous maps of the entire city, from its infancy to the years of rebuilding after the devastating earthquake. But perhaps of even greater interest were the local maps featuring the neighborhoods being divided up into lots, for sale to homesteaders and speculators. One in this category that went well above the estimate was a map of tide lands for sale, printed by G.T. Brown, the first African American lithographer in California, which sold for $10,000. Another map that piqued the interest of bidders was Official Map of Chinatown in San Francisco, a color lithograph from 1885. The lot sold for $15,000, ten times the high estimate.
The large selection of pictorial letter sheets, graphic portrayals of San Francisco in the wild days of the Gold Rush, captured its amazing growth from outpost to metropolis in a few short years. These brought high prices across the board – among the most notable was a letter sheet with a large double-page lithographed “Bird’s-Eye View of San Francisco … July 1852,” published by Cooke & LeCount, which went for $9,375.
The successful auction foreshadows what is to come at PBA Galleries. The second portion of the Charles Fracchia collection, featuring an important group of lithographed views of San Francisco, with related material, will be offered in the fall.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.pbagalleries.com or 415-989-2665.
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