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Swanlund-Baker Photograph Collection - Finding Aid

Biographical Information
Scope and Content of the Collection
Arrangement of the Collection

Collection Number

F868 H8 S848

Contact Information

The Library, Special Collections
Cal Poly Humboldt
One Harpst Street
Arcata, California 95521

Processed By

Edith Butler, MA, CA

Date Collection Processed

2000; Photographs scanned and finding aid updated 2012



Collection Creator

Ray Jerome Baker and other photographers, most unidentified

Dates Covered by Collection

1900-1960 Inclusive dates
1904-1925 Bulk dates

Size of Collection

1001 items


The Swanlund-Baker Collection depicts a wide variety of everyday northwest California scenes and activities from the early twentieth century. Lumber industry, tanbark industry, flower nurseries, city and village street scenes, schools, portraits, parks, ships, shipbuilding, shipwrecks, and rivers are the featured subjects of this collection. The primary photographer represented is Ray Jerome Baker who lived in Humboldt County from 1904-1910.


The collection is open for research


Copyright has not been assigned to the Cal Poly Humboldt Library. To obtain permission to publish or reproduce, please contact the Special Collections Librarian.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Swanlund-Baker Photograph Collection, Cal Poly Humboldt Library

Acquisition Information

Gifted to Cal Poly Humboldt in 1985 and 1991 by Samuel Harper Swanlund with a small addition in 2000 by Peter Palmquist


This project was supported in part by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the State Librarian.

Biographical Information

Ray Jerome Baker (1880-1972) worked as a self-employed photographer in Humboldt County from 1904 until sometime in 1910. In that year Baker and his wife, Edith Frost Baker, and son, Earl Frost Baker, made Hawaii their permanent home. Baker continued as a professional photographer and became renowned for his documentary and promotional images of Hawaii. He retired from active photography and public speaking in 1959. His life story is told in two books: Odyssey Of A Cameraman and Hawaiian Yesterdays: Historical Photographs. He is the author of several additional books, principally about Hawaii. The Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii has an extensive collection of Baker's images. This biographical sketch will focus on what is known of his time in Humboldt County.

In addition to the six years that R.J. Baker resided in Humboldt County he returned for visits to his in-laws and friends, and speaking engagements about 15 times between 1911 and 1961. He took some photographs on these occasions. Edith Baker and her family owned property just east of Briceland and near Miranda, giving Baker a "home base" in southern Humboldt County during the time he lived here and his subsequent visits. Aside from the excellent quality of Baker's photographs his images of southern Humboldt County are his unique contribution to this region's early 20th century historical record.

In Eureka, Baker set up business in a tent before buying Ed Chase's upstairs studio on the corner of 5th and F streets. During the next few years he moved his studio a few times but always remained in Eureka. By 1908 he was working out of a home studio at 825 E St. In February of that same year the Baker family vacationed in Hawaii, and found it very much to their liking. In August Baker was charged with taking obscene pictures for which his name appeared several times in the Eureka Herald. He posted bail of $100 and then paid the fine of $50.

In 1906 Baker posed with a group of Socialist Party members on the steps of the Humboldt County Courthouse (see image # 1999.01.0353).

Baker had an acquaintanceship with Jack London. In a short letter from London to Baker (probably sent in early 1911, before London knew that Baker had permanently left Eureka), London informs Baker that he plans to drop by his Eureka studio the next June. London goes on to say that he and Mrs. London will be driving up to the coast of Oregon and then over to Nevada. (A photocopy of this letter is in the Palmquist Collection at the Beinecke Library/Yale University; it is also included in the two volume Bishop Museum compilation at Cal Poly Humboldt, F868 H8 B35 2012.)

From Baker's manuscript memoir, Odyssey Of A Cameraman, and from a 1959 letter he wrote to Dorothy Fletcher of Miranda we have Baker's own recollections about his time in Humboldt County. While the letter is a bit lengthy it is useful for its information about Baker's activities while in northern California and his comments on his career just at the time that he was giving up active work.

Scope and Content of the Collection

The Swanlund-Baker Collection depicts a wide variety of everyday northwest California scenes and activities from the early twentieth century. Lumber industry, tanbark industry, flower nurseries, city and village street scenes, schools, portraits, parks, ships, shipbuilding, shipwrecks, and rivers are the featured subjects of this collection. The number and variety of images from southern Humboldt County make this collection especially noteworthy. The primary photographer represented is Ray Jerome Baker. The inclusive date range is 1900-1960 with the bulk of the images dating from 1904-1925.

Samuel Harper Swanlund (1931 - 2003) donated the major portion of the collection (954 images) to the Cal Poly Humboldt Library in two groups, one in 1985 and another in 1991. Peter Palmquist donated 47 additional glass plate negatives in 2000. Photographer Ray Jerome Baker's work is represented in about 65% of the collection. All of the images donated by Mr. Palmquist are attributed to Baker. The content of the Baker images from both donors is very similar and some images were clearly taken at the same event/scene. The majority of the images donated in 1985 were by Baker whereas the 1991 donation contains images by an assortment of photographers, including Baker, McClosky, Francis, Ed Chase, G.W. Miller, and Oscar Swanlund, but in most instances the photographer is not identified.

Mr. Swanlund obtained these images, which are from numerous sources, in the course of his professional photographic work and as a result of his growing interest in historical images. He followed his father in professional photography and for thirty-two years continued the family business, the Swanlund Photo Shop, in Eureka, CA. Sam Swanlund made prints of many of the images and often made them available to researchers and writers, thus many of these images have found their way into works published since the early 1970s. Mr. Swanlund has developed the art form of hand coloring reprints of historical photographs. His works are widely displayed in Humboldt County.

Information from Sam Swanlund in 1997 indicates that Carl Christensen and Lloyd Stine jointly acquired images directly from Baker toward the end of Baker's long career. In the late 1960s Sam Swanlund purchased several hundred glass plate negatives from Christensen and Stine. Peter Palmquist, in 2000, recalled that he purchased his portion from Christensen in the 1970s.
A significant portion (112 images) of the collection depicts the Cottage Gardens Nurseries, a business that flourished in Humboldt County from about 1914 to about 1925. Charles Willis Ward was the creator and principal owner of this nursery. The images, marked with a number that begins with "W," show the many activities that took place at four principal locations: McKinleyville, Eureka (Myrtletown and C Street), and along the Van Duzen River in the Carlotta/Yager Creek area. Interiors and exteriors of greenhouses, fields of plants, close-ups of flowers and bulbs, and bird's eye views of landscapes are the major categories of these images. The photographer is unidentified. The estimated date range for this set of images is 1914-1925.

New contact prints and new copy negatives were made for a portion of the collection between 1985 and 1990 using campus photographic services (1999.01.0001-.0369). New contact prints and copy negatives for the balance of the collection, and an item level inventory of the entire collection were made during 1999-2000. The glass plate negatives were retained and are now in permanent archival storage. The nitrate film negatives were not retained because the Humboldt State Library is not presently equipped to store nitrate negatives safely; these negatives are likely included in the Palmquist Collection at the Beinecke Library/Yale University. Images 1999.01.0001-.0628 are from Swanlund (1985), 1999.01.0629-.0915 and 1999.01.0964-.1011 are from Swanlund (1991), and 1999.01.0916-.0963 are from Palmquist (2000).

In 2006 archivist Edith Butler selected items from the Ray Jerome Baker photograph and manuscript collections at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu Hawaii. The photocopies of these items are in the Cal PolyHumboldt Library Humboldt Room (F868 H8 B35 2012; 2 volumes). Many of these provide additional information about the persons, places, and events in the images held by Cal Poly Humboldt. Memoir and correspondence materials were selected because they cover the approximately 15 occasions when Baker visited California after moving to Hawaii from Eureka in 1910.

Guide to Item Level Description

Descriptive information about each image has been entered into an Access database. Information entered into the database was taken from the image itself, the wrappers/envelopes that accompanied about one half of the negatives, information supplied by Sam Swanlund, and the archivist's knowledge of the region, as follows:

Title: Titles were taken from the image itself, the envelope, or were supplied by the project archivist. Many of the envelopes came from R. J. Baker's studio, but other envelopes were new ones supplied by subsequent owners. The newer envelopes usually had titles or descriptions that had been supplied by personnel at the Swanlund Studio during the time that Sam Swanlund owned the collection. It is unknown whether the titles supplied by Swanlund Studio were transcribed from original envelopes. Some original envelopes also have information supplied by the Swanlund Studio. All descriptive information on the envelopes was recorded and a few obvious misspellings were corrected. Titles not directly attributable to the photographer's studio are bracketed [ ]. Swanlund Studio information is indicated by [ /ss], and if the source of the title is unknown it is indicated by [ /unknown]. In a few instances R.J. Baker's studio titled an image by another photographer. Baker's initials follow these titles [ /rjb]. The titles created by the project archivist during processing are simply bracketed: [ ].

Photographer: Identified photographers include Ray Jerome Baker, McClosky, Francis, Ed Chase, G.W. Miller, and Oscar Swanlund.

Photographer's Number: These numbers appear on the negative. All but two of the Cottage Gardens images have a "W" preceding the number.

Date: Most of the images are undated. Information on the image or on the envelope is the source of the date. If the date was not exactly specified the estimated year is followed by a "?".

Physical description and dimensions: This refers to the original negative. Black and white is abbreviated as "b&w". Dimensions are given in inches.

Subject/Genre: Subject terms and geographical place names were drawn primarily from lists already in use in the Library's Humboldt County Collection. When necessary new subject terms were added using Place Names of Humboldt County, California by Dennis Turner, Library of Congress Subject Headings and Thesaurus for Graphic Materials (1995) by the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress.

Region: To assist users in locating images from broad geographic areas a region designation has been assigned. Numerical values are given to nine areas of Humboldt County, defined primarily by watershed, and eight values are given to describe other geographical locations. This region categorization is also used in other photographic collections both at the Cal Poly Humboldt Library and at the Humboldt County Historical Society. A map portraying these regions is accessible at .

Arrangement of the Collection

To facilitate use of the collection view copies of each image have been grouped into a blend of geographic and subject categories and placed in 20 binders which are available in the Cal Poly Humboldt Library Humboldt Room. When the location of a scene is unknown decisions on which binder to place it in were guided by educated guesses. Users should consult the individual records for the most reliable information about geographic location. Unfortunately the time constraints of the project did not allow for additional research. Any corrections or additional information regarding the collection are invited and should be made to the Special Collections Librarian at the Cal Poly Humboldt Library. In 2012 the photographs were scanned and added to the Humboldt Room Photograph Collections database. For information about individual images consult the online database at Humboldt Room Photograph Collections.


Publications containing photographs that are in this collection and that were published during the early 20th century include:

The Californian. Souvenir Edition, v. 25, 1909; Special Edition, v.26, no. 13, 1910; Souvenir Edition, July 27, 1912; Supplement [no. 18, 1914?]. [Eureka, CA: California Pub. Co.].

Humboldt County California Wants Your Factory. Eureka: Times Publishing Company, 1917.

Ward, Charles Willis. Humboldt County: The Land Of Unrivaled Undeveloped Natural Resources On The Westernmost Rim Of The American Continent. [Eureka: Ward-Perkins-Gill Co.] 1915.

Baker, Ray Jerome. Odyssey Of A Cameraman.; [self published manuscript, 1956 153 pp.]

____________. Hawaiian Yesterdays: Historical Photographs. Honolulu: Mutual Publishing Company, 1982. Edited by Robert E. VanDyke, text by Ronn Ronck.

____________. Ray Jerome Baker Information from Bishop Museum: photographs with identifying information and selection of memoirs, diaries, and correspondence, 2 vol. 2012 (photocopies of materials from Bishop Museum). Compiled by Edith Butler.

Belcher Abstract & Title Co. Atlas of Humboldt County California. Eureka: Belcher Abstract & Title Co. 1921.

Boda, Joyce. Pioneer Leather Tanners. Eureka: Eureka Printing Company, Inc., 1997.

Burgess, Rebekah. "Humboldt County Through the Camera's Lens: Three Photographers, Three Views." Humboldt Historian. Fall 2000, pp. 24-36.

Cook, Margarite Drucella. The Southern Humboldt Papers. 1997. [unpublished, 13 volumes & index]

Christen, Arthur J. "My Yager Valley: Life in a Pioneer setting." Humboldt Historian. January-February, 1980, pp. 4-6.

Eureka Herald. Eureka, CA. August 22, 1908, p.5; August 27, 1908, p.5.

Palmquist, Peter. R.J. Baker File. Private manuscript collection and information files compiled by Peter Palmquist. Transferred to the Beinecke Library at Yale University in 2000. [one file folder]

Robinson, J. A. Dairy, Land and Development Edition, supplement to the Humboldt Times. Eureka Publishing Co., 1916.

Turner, Dennis W. Place Names of Humboldt County, California: A compendium, 1542-1992. Orangevale: D. W. Turner, 1993.

Ward, Charles Willis. Humboldt County: The Land Of Unrivaled Undeveloped Natural Resources On The Westernmost Rim Of The American Continent. [Eureka: Ward-Perkins-Gill Co.] 1915

Subject Headings

Humboldt County (Calif.) - History - Pictorial works
Tan bark
Cottage Gardens Nurseries
Baker, Ray Jerome, 1880-1972 - Archives
Lumbering - California - Humboldt County - History