Arader Galleries

The Telegraph Hill Observatory

$ 9,500.00
Britton & Rey
The Telegraph Hill Observatory
Framed size: 32” x 39”
San Francisco, 1883.

The printing firm of Britton & Rey was undoubtedly the largest producer of lithographs in California. The two men were the Currier & Ives of the West, resembling that famous combination not only in the volume of their production but in their personal relationship as well.

Joseph Britton was an Englishman, born in Yorkshire in 1825. At ten years of age he came to America and lived in New York until he was twenty-four. As a young man he apparently worked there as a lithographer, for in 1847 there was issued a music sheet, “The Shepard’s Cottage,” from J. Britton at 559 Hudson Street. In 1849 the lure of the California Gold Rush struck him and he joined the George Gordon party, the first gold seekers to make the journey by way of Lake Nicaragua. He went directly to the gold fields and prospected until he became discouraged by his lack of success and returned to San Francisco. There, in 1852, he formed a partnership with C. J. Pollard. The association was short-lived, however, for in the same year he set up business as a lithographer with J. J. Rey.

Jacques Joseph Rey was born in Bouxviller, Alsace, in 1820. As a young man he studied art and lithography. About 1850 he went by way of Panama to California, where, contrary to the custom of those days, he did not seek his fortune in the mines. Just what he did at first is not definitely known, but 1852 finds him entering into partnership with Joseph Britton. Three years later he married Britton’s sister, thus cementing a friendship and partnership which accounts for some of the most notable lithography done in California.

Joseph Britton remained a bachelor all his life. He lived always with the Rey family, a sign of the closeness of the two gentlemen’s friendship. In their lithographic business Rey was undoubtedly the artist of the firm while Britton remained the businessman.

This spectacular chromolithograph is an excellent example of the work produced by Britton & Rey. It was issued with the Christmas 1883 edition of the San Francisco News Letter and pictures the Telegraph Hill Observatory which was opened on July 4th, 1882. In a letter to her son written on August 21st 1886, the actress E. J. Phillips gave an excellent description of this Observatory. She writes: “I went to one new place this week called Telegraph Hill. It is a very high point and commands a splendid view of the bay and surrounding country. There is a large building that is called Telegraph Hill Observatory at the top of which you are supplied with field glasses - the lower parts of the building are devoted to restaurants, or rather Dutch beer saloons - at one end of the largest room is a stage devoted to concert and theatrical performances - and wrestling matches on Sunday nights!!”