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Sunday, October 01, 2000

Publication showcased Vacaville to the rest of the world

Sabine Goerke-Shrode

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By the 1880s, immigration to California steadily increased. A large number of fruit ranches were established in the Vacaville area and elsewhere in the state. Newspapers, pamphlets and other printed advertisements throughout the United States extolled the beauty and climatic advantages of California, aiming to attract new settlers, and to open new markets.

Many of these pamphlets were crudely fashioned, highly colored and filled with incorrect and even untrue statements. These lurid advertisements led the Pacific Rural Press to comment: “California is so good a state, that the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, should be set forth for the benefit and information of all people.”

In 1886, William. R. Nutting, owner and manager of the California View Publishing Company in San Francisco, set out on a daring endeavor. He envisioned a series of illustrated publications on different regions in the state, even learning photography to be able to illustrate his work. Text and photographs were to be combined, with the text written first and the photographs illustrating points therein. Lithographs would be colored accurately according to the natural colors found. This was a radically new concept, closely resembling our modern photo essay. Wickson described it in a promotional pamphlet as “The employment of color and the camera in a systematic attempt to make California better known; presenting actual facts, not the idealized conceptions of artists, true to topography; true to results attained by formative processes; true to existence in form and color.”

As writer for the first volume, which centered on the fruit ranches of Vacaville, Nutting hired Edward J. Wickson, Lecturer on Practical Agriculture at the University of California and the editor of the Pacific Rural Press. Wickson wrote the text for California Illustrated No. 1: The Vacaville Early Fruit District early in 1886.

In a promotional pamphlet, Nutting advertised California Illustrated No. 1: “This number is intended especially to illustrate the important and rapidly growing industry of CALIFORNIA FRUIT GROWING by the experiments, practices and results in this representative district; and, as the stories of “Gold at Sutter’s Mill” covered all parts of the state with adventurous gold seekers, so the story of “Fruit at Vacaville” will, it is expected, help fill all California with happy, healthy, intelligent fruit growers.

“Its fresh, vigorous and truthful accounts will be as fascinating as the ‘Arabian Nights’ to the thousands who are looking with longing eyes to our great state from their land of blizzards, cyclones, thunderstorms and sunstrokes, though still hardly crediting the ever wonderful story of California - where there are none of these terrors of nature.”

Around June 1886, and all through 1887, Nutting photographed valley views, orchards and orchard productions in and around Vacaville. Working closely from the written text, his more than 2,700 photographs captured every detail of the fruit industry and of the people who worked in the orchards.

The main attractions of California Illustrated No. 1 were a number of colored plates, showing a compilation of Nutting’s photographs. To ensure absolute accuracy in terms of presentation and color, artists returned to Vacaville with photographic print in hand to create the 86 colored lithographs. These were then printed by San Francisco printer H.S. Crocker & Co. Nutting wrote: “We have adopted color despite the heavy expense, simply for the business object of gaining profitable circulation for the work, believing that if our artists have done their part as well as they claim, the ‘California Colors’ will make the book interesting to many people who would never look at it if in plain black and white. CALIFORNIA IS A LAND OF COLOR, and perhaps in no other part of the world is there such a variety of subjects requiring the use of color to properly illustrate them, ...”

Production expenses were heavy and Nutting worked hard to gain subscribers for his first edition. In a letter written to The Reporter on February 9, 1888, under the headline “Vacaville Illustrated in Colors” he said: “The work has progressed far enough now to state that it will contain about 80 different views instead of the 50 it was thought barely possible to get in; ... The extra views and extra cover, and the artists employed to sketch in colors from nature, where better effects could be got than from photographs, make several hundred dollars more expense put into the book than it was agreed to put in, besides considerable extra reading matter.

“It is to be hoped therefore that the picture-loving and book-buying public of Solano County will show their appreciation of the work by a very liberal increase of the amount subscribed thus far by a comparative small number of people about Vacaville.”

Nutting’s gamble paid off. His first edition of 3,000 copies at $1 sold out immediately. A second edition, published in May 1888, also sold out. Reviewers recognized the unique aspects of the publication, praising the colored lithographs as the equal of anything done on the Atlantic Coast. And The Reporter described ‘California Illustrated No. 1’ as “a most delightful impression of the beauty and fertility of the country, and of the variety and attractiveness of its characteristic features.”