Clipper Ship Sailing Cards

By Sharon Gee
With the world sailing aficionados turning their attention to our hometown of San Francisco138668_0 for the America’s cup, we are pleased to offer a collection of Clipper Ship Sailing cards in Sale 515.  In the mid-19th century, it was the three-masted Clipper Ships that were the record setting sailing speedsters.  They reached their heyday during the California Gold Rush era when thousands of prospectors were trying to get to the West Coast to strike it rich and businessmen were eager to take advantage of the increased commerce.   During that time, the fastest way to California from the East was sailing around Cape Horn, still taking more than 3 months for the journey. The Flying Cloud set the sailing record New York to San Francisco by making the journey in 89 days, 8 hours and holding the record until 1989.  Before the clippers, voyages from the East Coast to the West took nearly seven months.


According to the American Antiquarian Society, clipper ship sailing cards were first published in 1853 and they continued until after the Civil War.  They were small postcard sized advertisements for a specific ship close to departure usually for San Francisco, although other ports were often included in the ships’ itineraries.  The cards were beautifully printed often with full color illustrations.  Employees distributed them to prospective passengers, merchants and agents in hopes of enticing business for the ship during this highly competitive time.  Because of their ephemeral nature, it is estimated that there are less than 3,500 cards remaining.  The main printers of these cards were Nesbitt & Co. from New York and Watson & Clark and Rand & Avery from Boston.


The Clipper Ship era was short-lived.  Many of these beautiful ships were abandoned in 138440_0San Francisco by their crews heading to the gold fields.  They became stores, hotels, hospitals or prisons or left sink into the bay.  Parts of San Francisco were built on top of the old ships and the remains of ships are still under the city.  However, the main reason for the demise of the clipper ships was the introduction of the steam ships and the opening of the Panama Canal.

We are honored to be offering 60 lots of Clipper Ship Sailing Cards from the collection of Jonathan D. Bulkley.  Mr. Bulkley was a prominent architect and founder of an investment firm.  He was also the recipient of the Ephemera Society of America’s highest honor, the Maurice Rickards Medal, which recognized his outstanding collecting accomplishments.

For those that are in the San Francisco area, the Bancroft Library currently has its collection of Clipper Ship Sailing Cards on exhibit through February 2014.  And for those that have a Clipper Card for travel on Bay area public transportation, the card was named for those very same clipper ships that transformed transportation during the Gold Rush.