San Francisco: Waters Company, [ca. 1915]. 393 silver gelatin photographs, each 8 x 10 inches. Each image annotated in pencil on verso, corresponding to numbered index sheet. Formerly mounted with remnants of glue on verso. Images generally clean, with minor wear and soiling. Several images lightly creased. Very good. Item #1530
An extensive photographic archive from the R.J. Waters Company of San Francisco depicting nearly 400 ships from the turn of the century. Vessels range from 19th century clipper ships to the seven-masted behemoths of the early 20th century, together with a few schooners, whaling barks, and the odd steamer or two. Many are British, with a good representation of American-built vessels, as well as ships from France, Germany, Australia, Sweden, and other nations. The ships are sorted here alphabetically and correspond to a numbered print issued by the Waters Company and present here which is titled "Collection over 500 Photographs of Sailing Ships." A further note asks that you "Kindly Order by Number," as each ship is noted with a number next to its name. The images themselves are notated accordingly with name and index number, with ships occasionally having more than one view. Ships currently under sail are denoted with an "X". Many of the ships are sailing vessels from the 1880s and 1890s, and provide historic detail about the wide variety of ships coming in and out of San Francisco's busy harbor. The views have been taken from various vantages, resulting in views of the San Francisco harbor and shoreline, as well as at least one shot of Alcatraz in the distance. Many of the vessels have secondary "biographical" information with them, adding to the research value of the archive.
R.J. Waters (1856-1927) was a California native who first opened a photo studio in Virginia City, Nevada in 1886. He opened a commercial photography studio on Sutter Street in San Francisco in 1892, and ten years later added a business partner and changed the name to R.J. Waters and Company. The firm claimed to "photograph anything and anywhere," and as a result had a wide array of images on offer including handsome panoramic views of San Francisco both before and after the Great Earthquake. Maritime photography seemed to have been a matter of opportunity, and Waters seems to have spent time both aboard ships and down at the docks making an effort to photograph every substantial vessel which entered San Francisco Bay. There was certainly a market for images of sailing vessels as evidenced by the present archive and its index card, and the present archive may have been a shop file used for ordering prints. Altogether an interesting study of maritime history, emphasizing San Francisco's importance as a port of call for international trade.