I Love Bookstores!

Robert Honeyman Collection, Bancroft Library
Daily Alta California 12 January 1854

And wouldn’t I love to browse in that one. Something for everyone, including musical instruments, at the Pioneer Book Store on Montgomery Street in San Francisco.

The image is from the “Robert B. Honeyman, Jr. Collection of Early Californian and Western American Pictorial Material” at the Bancroft Library, on the UC Berkeley campus. That’s an all-absorbing place to browse too.

The Pioneer Book Store must have been one of the earliest book stores in San Francisco. It was advertising in newspapers as early as 1851.

Stationery, law books, sheet music (20,000 pages!), dictionaries, school books, law books, and literature of every kind. Another ad listed some of the popular poets available–Byron, Shakespeare, Milton, Burns, Keats, Longfellow. Just what a miner needed to while away the evenings in camp.

As the Daily Alta California noted on 11 January 1853:

We have in San Francisco three or four establishments whose fitting up and furnishing indicates permanence and a prosperous state of refined and refining business. Their stocks are heavy, varied and well selected, from the best publishing houses in England and America. By every steamer that arrives with freight from the Atlantic shores, the latest English and American publications are received. Such is the book trade of San Francisco, whose bookselling houses supply all the interior and the mines with every species of reading, and carry on a home traffic that, were figures shown, would surprise some of our Eastern friends, who sigh over the moral and mental darkness which still lingers around ” benighted California.”

With bookstores like Marvin and Hitchcock’s Pioneer Book Store, California was far from “benighted.”

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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3 Responses to I Love Bookstores!

  1. noseybear says:

    The Pioneer Book Store in San Francisco would have been an impressive place to visit. Do any showcase bookstores like that exist in modern times?

    The Butte Record of December 12,1853, informed the public of a Book and Variety Store located at Bidwell’s Bar. Since books were the first item listed in C. J. Smith store notice, he appears to have believed there was a market for books and other printed material. The store remained in operation until 1856, when Smith relocated to Oroville. Certainly the book selection would have been pale in comparison to the Pioneer Bookstore, but it was a start!

  2. nancyleek says:

    Those miners were hungry for reading material!

    • noseybear says:

      I should have included a copy of the article text. Here it is;
      BOOK AND VARIETY STORE, East side Shade Hotel.— The undersigned respectfully informs the public that he keeps constantly on hand in his establishment a good variety of School Books, Poetical and Musical Works, Novels, Yankee notions, & c. In addition to the above, his customers can at all times be furnished with the best article of Cigars and Tobacco.
      TERMS— Cash, and liberal.
      nov26 C. A. SMITH.

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