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Lawrence and Houseworth photograph collection

 Collection — Box: P011
Identifier: PC-RM-Lawrence-Houseworth
The collection consists of stereographs and cartes de visite published by opticians Lawrence and Houseworth of San Francisco between 1860 and 1870, with the bulk of images produced between 1863 and 1866. Most of the photographs were likely taken by Charles Leander Weed. The collection contains 49 stereographs and 38 cartes de visites, all albumen. The images primarily document California and Nevada, and include photographs of Sacramento, San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Yosemite. They include pictures of natural features such as Lake Tahoe, Donner Lake, the geysers of Sonoma county, and the Mammoth Sequoia trees in Calaveras county. There are images of hydraulic mining, major sea ports, and important buildings and intersections in San Francisco.

An additional photograph of Lawrence and Houseworth's optometry studio, located at 198 Clay Street, San Francisco, can be found in General Subjects -- Photographers -- (San Francisco -- J-L), PC-GS: Box 058.


  • 1860-1870

Language of Materials

Collection materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Materials in this collection are in the public domain in the United States. Permission to publish or reproduce is not required.


0.5 box (1 photo box, half of which is Lawrence and Houseworth and half of which is Houseworth and Co.)


Lawrence and Houseworth were one of the main publishers of stereoviews on the West coast around the 1860s. They sold views primarily of California and Nevada, and the majority of their photographs are of nature scenes, and the wonders of California's redwoods, geysers, lakes and mountains. The collection contains commercial formats - stereographs and cartes de visites. They were taken by photographer Charles Leander Weed and published by Lawrence and Houseworth, who did a brisk business selling these formats, and were competitive with other merchants of stereoviews.

Biographical / Historical

Like many, Thomas Houseworth (1828-1915), a native New Yorker, travelled West with an interest in mining and arrived San Francisco in 1849. Houseworth met George S. Lawrence (dates unknown) while working a claim in Calaveras County, Calif. The two men were mining partners for the next two years, looking for gold in Trinity County, Calif. Lawrence settled in San Francisco, where he opened a jewelry shop and, later, in 1852, an optical shop - which he asserted was the first of its kind on the Pacific Coast. In 1855, Lawrence and Houseworth formally established a partnership, selling stereoscopic views and equipment. Intended as a form of armchair travel, stereographs made use of the principles of binocular vision ("the mental fusing of slightly dissimilar images seen separately by the viewer's two eyes into one image with three-dimensional characteristics"). As optometrists, Lawrence and Houseworth were uniquely well-positioned to bring this new technology to the masses.

The men got starting selling stereographs of exotic locales published by others (such as the London Stereoscopic Company), but, in 1863, began publishing their own views. The majority of the images that they published, including photographs of the 1862 Sacramento flood and of Yosemite, were taken by photographer Charles Leander Weed. He later became their in-house photographer, and Lawrence and Houseworth sponsored Weed's photographic expedition to Nevada and Yosemite. Weed later developed a rivalry with San Francisco's other main photographer of stereoviews, Carleton Watkins.

By 1864, Lawrence and Houseworth were publishing stereographs in earnest, and needed to expand their facilities to storefronts at 317 and 319 Montgomery Street in San Francisco. In 1867, Lawrence and Houseworth received a bronze medal for their views at the Paris International Exposition. In 1868, George S. Lawrence retired, leaving Thomas Houseworth to continue the business.

Information taken from: Palmquist, Peter E. and Thomas R. Kailbourn. Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary, 1840-1865. Stanford University Press, 2000.

Palmquist, Peter E. Lawrence and Houseworth/Thomas Houseworth and Co.: A Unique View of the West 1860-1886. National Stereoscopic Association, 1980.


The collection is organized by format into two series, and from there is organized geographically and chronologically. The geographic subseries and dates are taken from Peter Palmquist’s book Lawrence and Houseworth / Thomas Houseworth and Co.: A Unique View of the West 1860-1886 (National Stereoscopic Association, 1980). The dates are Palmquist's guesses at dates when the views were produced, as opposed to the dates printed on the cards themselves, which are likely copyright dates. Most images include an original title and number and, within each geographic subseries, items are arranged numerically.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Collection is comprised of multiple donations from various donors. Please see collection files for more information.

Processing Information

The collection was processed by Erin Hurley in 2018. Wendy Welker previously processed the stereographs in 2003-2004.
Finding aid to the Lawrence and Houseworth photograph collection.
The collection was processed by Erin Hurley in 2018. Wendy Welker previously processed the stereographs in 2003-2004.
December 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