San Luis Obispo County Historic Lithographs Collection, 1883, MS 047
The lithographs in this collection were produced for publication in a county history in 1883. During the late nineteenth century and the first few decades of the twentieth century, county and local histories were quite popular as American communities expressed pride in their economic achievements and attempted to boost further development and growth. Many county histories and so-called county "mug books" were published on a "subscription basis" — those profiled paid to be included. As a result, the biographical sections and illustrations of the paying subscribers or "patrons" formed a substantial part of each history. In cases such as the Thompson and West histories of this period, artists' renderings of the ranches and properties of the subscribers and of other prominent citizens added an additional dimension to the publication.
Publishing partners Thomas H. Thompson and Albert A. West produced about 17 other similar historical works on western locales including: History of Nevada (1881); History of Los Angeles County, California (1880); History of Sacramento County, California (1880); History of San Joaquin County, California (1879); History Of Santa Barbara & Ventura Counties, California (1883).
In 1883, San Luis Obispo County's population was about 9,000. With a population of 2,243 (1880), the town of San Luis Obispo was the largest community between Monterey (population 1,396 in 1880), Santa Barbara (population 3,460 in 1880) and Bakersfield (population 2,626 in 1890) and served as the regional market center for an isolated, agricultural area. Stage lines transported passengers between San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles or San Francisco during the 1860s and 1870s. The first passenger train from San Francisco arrived in 1894, though the railway link from San Francisco to Los Angeles was not completed until 1901.
At the time this book was produced, San Luis Obispo County enjoyed a growing prosperity, with dairy production of major importance in the primarily agricultural region. By 1883, the mining of cinnabar in Cambria made it the second largest city in the county, and Port Harford at San Luis Bay was regarded as one of the most accessible harbors on the California coast.
The editor of the History of San Luis Obispo County was local booster and journalist Myron Angel; he also is credited as the editor of Thompson and West's History of Nevada and History of Placer County.
The lithographs in this collection are typical of those found in other Thompson and West histories: detailed and quaint, though also quite tidy and idealized renderings of their rural subjects. Also typical to most of their other histories, the artists of the lithographs are unnamed and uncredited. According to Walker A. Tompkins in his introduction to the reproduction edition of Thompson and West's History of Santa Barbara & Ventura Counties, typically, multiple artists working for the publisher went out into the field and made pencil sketches, which were then shaded "with grease crayon and the whole reproduced by lithography in a manner most pleasing to the eye."
- Angel, Myron, ed. Reproduction of Thompson and West's History of San Luis Obispo County, California, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men and Pioneers, with introduction by Louisiana Clayton Dart. Berkeley, CA: Howell-North Books, 1966.
- Mason, J.D., ed. Reproduction of Thompson and West's history of Santa Barbara & Ventura counties, California: with illustrations and biographical sketches of its prominent men and pioneers, with introduction by Walker A. Tompkins. Berkeley, CA: Howell-North, 1961.
- Szucs, Loretto Dennis and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, eds. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Rev. ed. Ancestry Publishing: Provo, UT, 1997.
- A Vast Pastoral Domain: San Luis Obispo County in the 1870s. San Luis Obispo, CA: Library Associates, Robert E. Kennedy Library, California Polytechnic State University, 1993.