The Edward Vischer Drawings, Photographs and Other Material is a collection of pencil drawings, loose albumen and lithograph prints of his drawings, and bound volumes of his prints. Vischer is best known for his pencil sketches of California landscapes throughout the 1860s and 1870s. He sketched a wide variety of scenes and objects, but most commonly the California missions, trees, mountains, and rural scenes. Of special interest are his drawings of the ruins of the missions, the Washoe mining region, horses and wagons, including the Pony Express, and even camels which were part of a short lived military experiment to import them into California.
Particularly unusual was Edward Vischer’s technique for reproducing his artwork. He began with the conventional method of lithography. However Vischer became frustrated with the lack of detail and print quality, the expenses involved, and, eventually, the breaking of a stone mid production. At this point, Vischer began exploring the use of photography to reproduce his artwork. After briefly experimenting with the medium himself, Vischer soon employed George H. Johnson, a professional photographer, to photograph his artwork for his publications. These albumen prints of his artwork were used to create bound publications that were primarily sold through subscriptions.
The Edward Vischer collection came to Honnold/Mudd Library as the generous gift of Mrs. Frederick Hellman. The digitization of this collection was funded by the John Haskell Kemble Endowment. The digital project staff for this project includes Stefanie Crump and Kelley Wolfe Bachli. Fact checking and editorial assistance with the descriptions and other content for the collection was kindly provided by Bob Bothamley.
Brief Biography of Edward Vischer
Edward Vischer (1809–1878) as a young man of nineteen emigrated from Germany to Mexico where he was associated with the commercial house of Heinrich Virmond. In the employ of Virmond, or other German-Latin American companies, he acted as supercargo on many trading voyages to west-coast ports of the Americas and to the Orient.
In 1842, he became interested in California and agreed to travel there for Virmond. It was in this way that Vischer first came to know the region, anchoring at Monterey, taking an excursion northwest to the port of Yerba Buena, and visiting Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. On this visit he fell in love with California. He gladly returned to San Francisco where he was active in currency exchange operations, acted as agent for German-Mexican firms, as marine forwarding agent, as real estate agent, and as a mortgage banker.
At the age of fifty, Vischer became intensely interested in sketching and painting. He combined with these interests a skill in photography. It was his practice to make rapid sketches on the spot of scenes which interested him, the big trees, the ruins of Missions, or mining operations, and later to work up these sketches in water color, pencil, pen or crayon. Subsequently he reproduced his drawing, first by lithography and later by photography. Using these techniques, Vischer published portfolios of drawings: The Mammoth Tree Grove (1862), The Washoe Mining Region (1862), Pictorial of California Landscape (1870), and Missions of Upper California (1872).