Pictorial Collection

Collection overview

The Bancroft Library has the second largest pictorial collection at a research institution in the nation. Consisting primarily of photographic negatives and prints, the Bancroft collection also includes paintings, prints, drawings, posters, and advertising memorabilia.

Major subject areas represented significantly in the Pictorial Collection include:

  • Early voyages of exploration 
  • Earliest visual documentation of coastal California, countless other locations along the Pacific Coast, and Hawaii
  • Native Americans in California
  • California missions
  • Scenic views of early California
  • Yosemite and other wilderness areas
  • Mexico
  • Californios: Mexican California before 1848
  • 19th-century landscape paintings of the West
  • California Gold Rush
  • Mining and exploitation of natural resources in California, Nevada, Alaska, and Mexico
  • Chinese in California
  • Portrait photographs, prints, and paintings of individuals prominent in the history of the West and Mexico
  • Transportation: clipper ships, railroads, streetcars
  • San Francisco
  • 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire
  • Agriculture in California
  • Early aviation in California
  • History of environmental movements and organizations
  • Major physical infrastructure projects (bridges, dams, and power plants)
  • World War II in California
  • War Relocation Authority photographs of the Japanese evacuation, internment, and resettlement
  • Kaiser Shipyards
  • African Americans in Northern California
  • Protest movements: civil rights organizations, Free Speech Movement
  • Police, crime, prisons, trials
  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT)
  • Newspaper photography and photojournalism—1920s to 1990s

Photographic material

Photography: California and the West

The technological development of photography is contemporary to the development of the American West, and photography played a significant role in the settling of the West. Federal and state governments commissioned photographic surveys that provided valuable documentation for building railroads and attracting East Coast and foreign investors who funded industrial mining, timber, and agricultural operations. Photographs by Carleton Watkins in the 1860s were critical to establishing Yosemite first as a state park and then as a national park.


The photography collection at Bancroft spans the history of the medium from early cased photographs—including daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes—to contemporary digital images. The collection contains photographs by renowned photographers such as Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange and the photographic archives of lesser known but important documentary photographers such as Michelle Vignes and Chauncey Hare.

Also significant and of great import are the many thousands of photographs, snapshots, and family photograph albums made by amateur photographers over the past 160 years, which provide researchers with a wide-ranging view of daily events, family life, and leisure activities.

Non-photographic material

The Bancroft Pictorial Collection contains a variety of non-photographic representations, including more than 400 hundred framed paintings and prints—notably bird’s-eye views, scenic views, and images of seafaring vessels. Many of them are part of the Robert B. Honeyman, Jr. Collection of Early Californian Art and Western Americana, dating from the 19th century. Other significant non-photographic collections include the Taller de Gráfica Popular, a large body of political prints and broadsides from Mexico, 1937-1950. French, British, and American posters from World War I and II constitute important and voluminous collections; many of these have been digitized and are available online.

The Robert B. Honeyman, Jr. Collection of Early Californian Art and Western Americana is the single most important acquisition of pictorial material for The Bancroft Library to date. It has been digitized in its entirety. The Honeyman Collection’s impressive array of 2371 items includes the visual testimony of explorers, sailors, surveyors, scientists, soldiers, fortune seekers, ship's physicians, printmakers, and painters who produced notebooks, journals, and diaries replete with pen and ink drawings as well as pencil and watercolor sketches. These are the visual documentation of the major voyages of exploration that landed on the western shores of the North American continent in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  Among them are the La Perouse Expedition (1769), the Malaspina Expedition (1791), the Vancouver Expeditions (1792), the Langsdorff/Rezanov Expeditions (1803-1807), and later American expeditions and surveys. In addition, the Honeyman Collection includes important works by major 19th-century painters of California.

Online access

Thousands of digital images from the collections of The Bancroft Library can be viewed in the Online Archive of California and on Calisphere. These include among others the entire Robert Honeyman, Jr. Collection of Early Californian Art and Western Americana, Cased Photographs and web Images from The Bancroft Library Pictorial Collection, the Lone Mountain Collection of Stereographs by Eadweard Muybridge, and the Rosalie Ritz Courtroom Drawings.