@ the Bancroft: Jesse Brown Cook Scrapbooks

November 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

Jesse Brown Cook Scrapbooks Documenting San Francisco History and Law Enforcement, ca. 1895-1936

This collection could have wonderful photographs of San Francisco in the 1890s. The collection description reads:
Jesse Brown Cook (1860-1938)
Courtesy Bancroft Library

The Jesse Cook scrapbooks consist of thirty-nine volumes containing an estimated 12,000 items, including photographs, newspaper clippings, and ephemera, primarily centering on the history of San Francisco and police activity in the city. The collection is thought to have once numbered fifty scrapbooks.

Jesse Brown Cook (1860-1938) was a member of the San Francisco Police Department from the 1890s to the 1930s. He began as a beat cop, and then rose through the ranks to become Sergeant of the Chinatown Squad; he retired as Chief of Police and later returned to the force as Police Commissioner. Before his years of service in the police force he studied taxidermy, worked as a sailor, drayman, and butcher, and toured Europe as a contortionist. His police career began in San Antonio and San Diego before he relocated to San Francisco.

It is unclear what motivated Cook to compile thousands of photographs and clippings into what is a unique portrayal of early twentieth century San Francisco, with its rare police department photographs and documentation of events not available to the general public at the time. Over the course of a decade, Cook had approximately 1300 street scenes professionally photographed, and he meticulously recorded the exact location of each photograph. Whatever the motive for his care and persistence, his passion for San Francisco history is apparent.

Much of the collection is apparently still being accessioned. My biggest need is some photographic evidence of the 1898 Golden Jubilee or Mining Fair. With some 200,000-300,000 people in attendance the day of January 24, 1898, it seems likely that their will be some evidence floating around. Interestingly many motion pictures were created by the Edison Co. during the Jubilee, but the focus seems to be on the motion technology not the subjects of the frame. But either way, the Jesse Cook collection could hold innumerable perspectives of the urban social imagination.

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