Early Yosemite Photographs

Yosemite: The Manchester Album

The Rees-Jones Collection expands its holdings in masterworks by pioneering photographers of the American West with the recent acquisition of Yosemite: The Manchester Album. The unique compilation of 25 mammoth-plate images, captured by Carleton Watkins between 1861 and 1867, includes beautifully composed views of Half Dome, Cathedral Rocks, El Capitan and other natural marvels of the Yosemite Valley. An intact Watkins album is a rare find, and this one has a significant provenance. It was originally owned by Clarence King, the first director of the U.S. Geological Survey and a noted geologist, mountaineer and western survey leader. He presented it to Consuelo Yzanaga and George Montagu, eighth Duke of Manchester, as a wedding gift in 1876.

Watkins, considered one of the greatest American landscape photographers, opened a public window to the wonders of the western frontier at a pivotal time. Historians credit him and his lyrical photographs with transforming what had been a local curiosity into a national icon by influencing the passage of the Yosemite Valley Grant Act, which President Abraham Lincoln signed in 1864. It declared the Yosemite Valley inviolable, a first step toward conserving federal lands for posterity that led to the creation of Yellowstone as the first national park in 1872.

Thanks to the generosity of Jan and Trevor Rees-Jones ’78, the Rees-Jones Collection will continue to develop as SMU Libraries prepares for construction on the new Rees-Jones Library of the American West, slated to begin later this year.

Yosemite Valley
Yosemite Valley from the “Best General View” (1866)
Mirror View of North Dome, Yosemite (1865–66).
Mirror View of North Dome, Yosemite (1865–66)
El Capitan mountain in Yosemite Valley
El Capitan, Yosemite Valley (1861)

This article also appears in the Spring 2024 issue of the SMU Libraries Newsletter.