Hubert Howe Bancroft – Historian and Bibliophile

11563_0 (1) As I was familiarizing myself with some of the offerings in Sale 510, I came across the name Hubert Howe Bancroft. I am familiar with the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley but I figured he was just some rich guy that gave a lot of money to the school and got his name on a building. It turns out the library was founded when the University of California bought his extensive book collection in 1905 and named the library in his honor.Hubert Howe Bancroft was born and raised in Ohio. He left there at 16 and moved to Buffalo to work for his brother-in-law, George H. Derby, one of the four Derby brothers who all were involved in book selling and publishing. When Bancroft was 19 he was sent to California to open a bookstore for Derby. After the death of his brother-in-law, Bancroft continued to work as a successful printer, publisher and bookseller in San Francisco.

Other than his great collection, he is best known for his 39 volume history of the Pacific coast of North America from Alaska to Central America. Volumes 1-5 are “The Native Races of the Pacific States” published in 1874. Histories of Central America, Mexico, Texas and the North Mexican States, Arizona and New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado and Wyoming, Utah, Northwest Coast, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana, British Columbia, Alaska and the seven volume set of History of California followed. Bancroft’s Works is Number 3 on the Zamorano 80 list of distinguished California books.

His passion for book collecting started when he began amassing material to publish a handbook on the Pacific Coast in 1860. By the end of the decade, he had collected over 16,000 volumes not just on California and the Pacific Coast but on British Columbia, Alaska, Rocky Mountains, Texas, Mexico and Central America. He continued to add to his collection with buying trips to the eastern US and Europe and extensive purchases at auctions (yay book auctions). In time, his collection grew to more than 60,000 items including many rare manuscripts, maps, books, pamphlets, and personal narratives of early pioneers.Bancroft sold his library to the University of California in 1905. It was able to survive the devastating earthquake of 1906 because it was outside of the fire zone unlike many other libraries in town. It was moved to the campus in May 1906 with the provision that the library be kept intact and in a secure fireproof building. It is the largest library in the US devoted to one region and continues to collect material on California and the Western US. 11388_0

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