UC Berkeley Library

Permanent Bancroft Gallery Exhibits

Content section: 

The Bust of Hubert Howe Bancroft  

"Wimmer" Gold Nugget 

The Drake Plate

The Bancroft Library Press

 Julia Morgan Bench

Bust of Hubert Howe Bancroft, Founder of The Bancroft Library

bust of H H BancroftLocated in the Reference Room of The Bancroft Library.

Viewable during the open hours of Bancroft's Heller Reading Room.

Date: 1908

Material/s:  Marble

Provenance: Commission for Bancroft

After The Bancroft Library was purchased by the Regents of the University of California on November 25, 1905 and moved to the campus in 1906, Hubert Howe Bancroft and his family maintained close ties with the collection.

Intended as a gift to the University, this marble portrait bust was commissioned by H. H. Bancroft's sons—Paul, Philip, and Griffing—from New York sculptor Johannes S. Gelert.

On July 15, 1908, Paul Bancroft wrote to Victor Henderson, the acting secretary of the Regents:

The marble bust of Hubert Howe Bancroft by Mr. Gelert, and pedestal, for the Bancroft Library, University of California, are finished and will be shipped at once by rail [from New York] direct to the University, freight prepaid.

Echoing the sentiment that all associated charges related to the bust be covered by their family, Philip Bancroft also wrote to Henderson:

My brothers and I desire to have our father's bust delivered to the University free and clear of any charges whatsoever.

On August 3rd, Henderson delivered the news that the bust had been safely installed in The Bancroft Library.

About the Artist

Johannes S. Gelert was born in Denmark in 1852 and studied art at the Royal Academy of Copenhagen. He immigrated to the United States in 1887 and became a citizen in 1892. His sculptures were exhibited in several World's Fairs, and some of his other well-known works adorn the facades of the Brooklyn Museum and the U.S. Custom House in New York. Gelert died in 1923 in Brooklyn, New York.

"Wimmer" Gold Nugget

Wimmer Nugget BANC PIC 19xx.031:066—OBJ brk00008384_24aExhibit case located on the third floor foyer of The Bancroft Library.

Viewable during the open hours of Bancroft's Heller Reading Room.

Date: 1848

Material/s:  Gold

Provenance: Facsimile

A facsimile of the "Wimmer" gold nugget—along with a gold pan, scales and weights, and facsimiles of artwork—is drawn from The Bancroft Library's Pictorial Collections.

The actual nugget, found at Sutter’s Mill on the American River near the present town of Coloma, is believed to be the piece of gold that started the California Gold Rush. Peter Wimmer was head of the construction crew erecting the lumber mill for John Sutter. Peter’s wife, Elizabeth Jane “Jennie” Cloud Wimmer, cooked for the workers.

On January 24, 1848, James Marshall--Sutter's general foreman and contractor for the project--found the nugget in the tailrace of the mill during a routine inspection with Wimmer.

He sent it back to the cookhouse where Elizabeth Wimmer boiled it in a pot of lye soap (a folk recipe for testing gold). When she reported that it appeared genuine, Marshall gathered some other flakes and nuggets and took them back to Sutter's fort where he and Sutter tested them chemically, using information gained from an encyclopedia.

Two months later, on March 15, 1848, the first notice of the discovery appeared in The Californian of San Francisco:

GOLD MINE FOUND. In the newly made raceway of the Saw Mill recently erected by Captain Sutter, on the American Fork, gold has been found in considerable quantities. One person brought thirty dollars worth to New Helvetia, gathered there in a short time. California, no doubt, is rich in mineral wealth; great chances here for scientific capitalists. Gold has been found in almost every part of the country.

Affidavits by both Elizabeth and Peter Wimmer accompany the nugget and attest to its being, indeed, the first gold found by Marshall. Although Marshall, a decade after the discovery, stated that he thought Elizabeth Wimmer had used the nugget to purchase some merchandise late in 1848, a re-examination by Professor Erwin Gudde in 1965 indicated that this nugget is, in all probability, the original "first discovery."

The Drake Plate

Drake's Plate --The Plate of brass BANC PIC 19xx.031:053--OBJ brk00002237_24aExhibit case located on the third floor foyer of The Bancroft Library.

Viewable during the open hours of Bancroft's Heller Reading Room.

Date: unknown

Material/s:  Brass

The Drake Plate is on display with facsimiles drawn from The Bancroft Library's Western Americana Collections.

The Story

In 1579, during his circumnavigation of the globe, Francis Drake put into a "convenient and fit harborough" in California, where he remained for about a month to refit his ship. As evidence of his discovery and conquest, he nailed a plate, presumably of brass, to a firm post declaring that the land had been surrendered by its king and people to Queen Elizabeth.  The queen’s portrait depicted on a silver sixpence, was displayed through a hole cut into the plate.

In the summer of 1936, a young man, Beryle Shinn, chanced upon a metal plate on a hill overlooking the shore of Point San Quentin in the San Francisco Bay. Eventually this object was brought to Dr. Herbert E. Bolton, Professor of History at the University of California, who surmised that it appeared to be Drake’s original plate. Bolton said, "One of the world's long lost historical treasures apparently has been found!"

Is the Plate Authentic?

Questions about the plate's authenticity were immediately raised by other scholars, but many persons were satisfied that this was not a forgery.  Authenticity was suggested by tests made by Dr. Colin G. Fink, Professor of Electro-chemistry at Columbia University, and Dr. E. P. Polushkin, a consulting metallurgical engineer of New York City. They concluded that this was "the genuine Drake Plate referred to in the book, The World Encompassed by Sir Francis Drake, published in 1628."

Nevertheless, skeptics continued to contend that the plate was the work of a modern forger. They pointed to the crude manner of inscribing the plate, the relatively modern spelling, the curious forms of some of the letters (particularly, B, P, R, M, and N), and some ostensible oddities of the text, such as reference to Queen Elizabeth of England rather than the more common 17th-century references, such as "Elizabeth, by grace of God, Queen of England. . . ."

Consequently The Bancroft Library tested the plate’s metal and means of fabrication with more contemporary methods.  In 1976 three very small holes were made in the plate, and the resultant drillings tested at the Research Laboratory for Archaeology & the History of Art at Oxford University and at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.

These tests suggested that the plate had a chemical composition comparable to brass of the 20th century rather than of the 16th century. Furthermore, the copper content of the plate is unlike that of the Elizabethan era but similar to that which comes from the contemporary Great Lakes region. Other tests showed that the plate’s metal differed in several basic ways from early European and English brass.

An X-ray diffraction investigation by the Department of Materials Science and Mineral Engineering of the University of California led to the decision that the "plate was produced by modern rolling process rather than having been made by hammer shaping," the only means known in Drake’s time for creating such a large piece of flat brass.

Two detailed binocular microscopic examinations of the plate by Dr. Cyril Stanley Smith, Professor Emeritus of MIT, and his scrutiny of enlarged color photographs revealed that the edge of the plate had none of the qualities of chisel cutting that one would expect in 16th century brass forging, but rather looked like a straight cut made by the modern device of a guillotine shear.

Conclusions of Investigations

The full texts of the investigations made between 1975 and 1979 were incorporated in two formal reports issued by The Bancroft Library, The Plate of Brass Reexamined and A Supplement. The assembled evidence turned out to be so negative that Professor Smith, after assessing all the information, stated that the data "made it virtually certain that the plate is not a piece of sixteenth-century brass."  Another leading investigator, Dr. R. E. M. Hedges of Oxford, declared, "I would regard it as quite unreasonable to continue to believe in the authenticity of the plate."

Scientific studies have shown that what was thought to be a historical artifact is evidently a modern creation; yet what is left unanswered are the intriguing questions about who made the plate and why.

(Edited from text of James D. Hart, Director of The Bancroft Library, March 1977. Revised May 2001 and February 2015.)

The Bancroft Library Press

Bancroft Library PressExhibit case located on the third floor foyer of The Bancroft Library.

Viewable during the open hours of Bancroft's Heller Reading Room.

On display are examples of The Bancroft Library Press publications along with tools of the hand press trade.

Every semester, The Bancroft Library offers the course "The Hand Printed Book in Its Historical Context" via the History department. Open to both graduate and undergraduate students, the course emphasizes practical experience in the printing of the hand-made book by presenting a historical perspective on the various technologies involved: type founding, paper making, binding, illustrations, and the evolution of the printing press itself.

Under the guidance of the instructor, students closely examine and discuss original printed books from the Bancroft collections ranging in date from the 15th century to the present. And as a group, these students handset and print a small publication on the library's iron handpresses, an 1856 Albion and an 1890 Reliance.

Only a very limited number of copies are made. None of these exquisite volumes is available for purchase: they are only available for viewing in the Heller Reading Room.

For a full listing of The Bancroft Library Press, please visit their publications page.

Julia Morgan Bench

Located on the third floor foyer of The Bancroft Library.

Viewable during the open hours of Bancroft's Heller Reading Room.

Provenance: gift of Greil and Jenelle Marcus

The design of the bench on display is attributed to Julia Morgan.

This bench once graced the entry hall of the residence of Greil and Jenelle Marcus, donors of the piece.  Their former home, also designed by Morgan, is at 828 Contra Costa Avenue, Berkeley.