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Arnold Genthe photograph collection

Identifier: PC-RM-Genthe
Comprises film and glass negatives; and original photographic prints created by Arnold Genthe between 1895 and 1925. Most of the photographic prints are signed by Genthe. Also contains copy prints, presumably created from the negatives in this collection.

Collection contains a sub-series of original portraits of artists, authors, dancers, actors, and other prominent San Franciscans who were contemporaries of Genthe, including Jack London. Another sub-series contains 16 original and many copy prints of photographs of the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire.

Bulk of collection is in the Chinatown sub-series which contains a few original prints and many copy prints of San Francisco's Chinatown. Known as Tangrenbu, this 10 block area was inhabited by most of San Francisco's Chinese American population. Photographs depict Chinese American children and families; tradespeople; and street scenes showing details of Chinatown's architecture, store fronts, and inhabitants. Many of the titles Genthe chose for his images contain language and descriptions considered offensive. Please see John Kuo Wei Tchen's introduction in Genthe's Photographs of San Francisco's Chinatown for a contemporary analysis of Genthe's photographs of Chinatown.


  • 1895 - 1925


Language of Materials

Materials primarily in English.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Materials in this collection, which were created between 1895 and 1906, are in the public domain in the United States. Permission to publish is not required.


2.67 Linear feet (2 legal document boxes; 1 half legal document box; 1 oversize flat box)


Collection of portraits of prominent San Franciscans taken by Arnold Genthe between 1899 and 1920; photographs of the aftermath of the 1906 Earthquake and Fire; and photographs Chinese American inhabitants of San Francisco’s Chinatown between 1895 and 1906. Collection contains film and glass negatives; original photographic prints created by Genthe and copy prints presumably made from the negatives in this collection.

Biographical / Historical

Arnold Genthe was born in Berlin, Germany on January 8, 1869. He emigrated to San Francisco in 1895 where he taught himself photography. He photographed the Chinese Americans living and working in San Francisco's Chinatown. Genthe opened a studio in San Francisco sometime between 1890 and 1900 where he made portraits of prominent San Francisco citizens, artists, authors, dancers, and actors. The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire destroyed his studio, but provided him with the opportunity to document much of the destruction in the city. Genthe rebuilt his studio in San Francisco in 1907 and published his Chinatown photographs in 1908. He moved to New York in 1911, continuing to work in photography, primarily in portraiture, until his death in 1942.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Many glass plate negatives are cracked or broken and should not be handled.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Negatives transferred from Library of Congress to the California Historical Society in 1954.


Finding Aid to Arnold Genthe Photograph Collection
Jaime Henderson
November 2018
Description rules
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the California Historical Society Repository

678 Mission Street
San Francisco CA 94105