Butte County California Chinese Immigrants



The names of twelve different photographers were printed or embossed upon the front of the original photographs or printed on the back or verso side of the paper mount. Additionally, many other kinds of advertising messages were printed on the back (see Table Two). Fourteen of these give no indication of the name of the photographer or photographic company or where the photograph was taken. We can only surmise they were the product of someone in the northern California area (similar to those which are named except in a few cases).



Abell and Priest Studios
(3), (13), (23), (38)
Clements & Sprague
L. H. Cook
(1), (2), (6), (12), (19), (21), (24), (25), (28), (32), (39), (44)
Perry Curtis & Co.
H. H. Frye
(4), (10), (31)
J. D. Reinhart
B. L. Roberts
Roussel & Palmer
(8), (27), (43)
L. A. Sprague
(5), (26), (34), (35)
Geo. R. Woods
(7), (14)
None Listed
(9), (11), (15), (16), (17), (20), (22), (30), (37), (40), (42), (45), (46), (47)

                      Source: photographs themselves

In 1839, Frenchman Louis Daguerre introduced the first practical method of photography (Jones et al. 1993:11, 17, 19). He surmised that copper plate and iodine/ silver vapor exposed to light through a pinhole called a camera obscura produced a delicate mirror-image of exquisite detail. This process became the most common photographic process used during the 1840’s and 1850’s (daguerreotype). Late in the 1850’s it was largely supplanted by the cheaper ambrotype and tintype processes, images fixed on metal alloys. Later negative images (black on white) were produced on glass plates, coated with a liquid mixture of nitrocellulose in alcohol and ether. Negative images allowed the first process for creating multiple copies of photographs (1860’s through the 1920’s in some areas). The photographs studied here would have been made for a Chinese client (with some white supporters) in very few numbers through the glass plate negative process still popular in the 1890’s. Apparently no negatives were given to the Balch Institute because none were found with the prints.

Twelve of the photographs in this collection were taken by Lincoln Hawkins Cook, four by Lucien A. Sprague, four by Abell & Priest (Frank George Abell and Charles F. Priest), three by Hiram Hamilton Frye, and three by Roussel & Palmer. The other photographers are represented by one or two images. There was a great deal of information printed on the photographs in this collection. Photographers often printed “boiler plate “ information on each photograph they sold. Most of the information consists of advertising for the photographer or photography company, explaining how good the images looked and where they were located. This was also advertising on the cheap--depending on word of mouth and satisfied customers telling their relatives and friends.

Abell and Priest Studios

These four photographs were all taken in 1893--(3), (13), (23) and (38). Abell & Priest Studios of San Francisco and Stockton were owned by the partners Frank George Abell and Charles F. Priest. The Wong Quong photograph (38) and the one for Jim Gee (23) noted the San Francisco address was 725 Market Street, the Stockton address was the Yosemite Building opposite the courthouse, and the Chico studio was located opposite the Union Hotel. Printed on the photographs was other information, “We keep all negatives,” “Crayons and Water Colors,” “Terms ½ deposit, balance on delivery of work,” “Engagements made” and “Successors to J. Pitcher Spooner.” According to Jones et al (1993:70-71), Abell & Priest were active photographers in the years 1890 through 1910. Frank George Abell and Charles F. Priest were also active as individual photographers in 1893. J. Pitcher Spooner….


The surname Brown was only found on one of the photographs, Yuen Fook Toy (41), taken in 1893. This studio was located at 606 Kearny Street, San Francisco. On the back of the photograph was printed “Negatives preserved. Duplicates of this picture can be had at any time at reduced rates. Copying and enlarging of pictures carefully attended to. A life size portrait can be made from this negative from which this picture is taken.” The information provided….

Clements and Sprague

The single photograph of Hing (18) might have been taken in 1890 before the Geary Act but after the first Exclusion Act in 1882. Printed on the photograph were the words “First Premium 1890.” Their studio was located in Chico, probably associated with L. A. Sprague (see entry below). Jones et al (1993:70) lists the years of 1892 and 1893 as the period of time Clements and Sprague were active photographers. However, as noted above, this photograph was taken in 1890. There was believed to have been a Charles C. Clements active in 1892.

Lincoln Hawkins Cook

Twelve of the photographs had been taken by Cook. Nine of these were taken in 1893 (1, 2, 6, 12, 19, 21, 24, 25, and 32), two were taken in 1894 (28 and 39), and one did not have a date on it (44). There was only a simple inscription on the front of all the photographs that read “L. H. Cook” and “Photographer, Chico, CAL.” However, on the back it stated “Duplicates can be had at reduced prices. Copying done and crayons made at reasonable rates.” Lincoln Hawkins Cook was one of several photographers living or working in Chico with his active years being 1892 through 1903 (Jones et al. 1993:70).

Perry Curtis and Co.

The Perry Curtis and Co.’s place of business was called the Imperial Gallery according to the 1882 photograph taken of Wong Goon (33). This photographer’s imprint was only present on one photograph.

Hiram Hamilton Frye

Frye’s address on Second Street in Chico was listed on all three of the photographs taken in 1889--Ah Hin (4), Charley Hoy (10) and Wong Chung Dung (31). Hiram Hamilton Frye was another of the photographers who were living or working in Chico (Jones et al 1993:70) during this time. His active years were basically between 1874 and 1900. There was also a photographer’s company named Frye and Jenkins (J.C. Jenkins) active from 1875 through 1895 located on Second Street.


The photographer’s name on one of the Wong Ning photographs (36) is very light but appears to be “Paris.” Photograph was taken in 1897. Could find no other information on this studio.

John D. Reinhart

Reinhart was a photographer who had settled in Red Bluff, Tehama County, 40 miles north of Chico. His imprint was located on the image taken of Sam Yuen (29) in 1898. Other information present on the back said “Fine Portraits and Enlargements” and “Locket Pictures, Viewing, etc.” John D. Reinhart is listed as being active in the year of 1899 (Jones et al 1993:79).

B. L. Roberts

One photograph, that of Foo Sing (15), printed with the Roberts name was taken in 1893. A photographer named Roberts was located in Chico from 1892 through 1893 (Jones et al. 1993:71). However, it was thought that his initials might be “H. F.” instead of “B. L.”

Roussel and Palmer

There were three images in this collection with the Roussel and Palmer name, Leong Gun--1890 (27), cannot read name--1890 (43), and Ah Woon--1892 (8). Roussel & Palmer’s address in Chico was 307 Main Street. The company called themselves “Fotograpists” (printed on the Ah Woon photograph). The active year for these photographers, traveling, was listed as 1891 and in Chico, 1893 (Jones et al. 1993:71, 80). There was also a John D. Palmer listed separately as being active in Dunsmuir in 1890 and in Chico during 1893 along with a George Onezime Roussel in Sisson (Siskiyou County), 1891-1892.

Lucien A. Sprague

Sprague company information in Chico was present on four photographs. These images were taken in 1891 (5), 1892 (26), 1894 (34), and 1892 (35). He may have also been a partner with Clements--see photograph of Hing (18). Lucien A. Sprague was an active photographer from 1890 through 1910 (Jones et al. 1993:70,71) and probably the partner of Charles C. Clements in 1892 and 1893.

George Reynolds Woods

In 1892, Woods’ place of business was called the Chico Art Gallery. That was the year the Ah Jeung (7) and Foo Chee (14) photographs were taken. According to the Chico Chronicle Record dated January 6, 1897 (page 3, column 1), his studio was located at the corner of 8th and Broadway. None of the names of the Chico photographers were found in the 1880 Census or in the 1918 Mansfield publication, History of Butte County, California.