Twelve Institute members had a history-filled day in Vallejo on April 13, with private viewings of two institutions: the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum, where Executive Director Jim Kern gave us a tour before regular open hours, and the McCune Collection at the Vallejo Public Library. Highlights at the museum included artifacts from Mare Island (the first U.S. naval base on the West Coast) and from various ships including the USS San Francisco, paintings of sea battles in the War of 1812, a periscope, a Russian cannon, and an exhibit about a Vallejo woman dancer.
Following lunch in Old Town and a walk past numerous historic buildings, we arrived at the McCune Room and browsed around the collection of rare books and printing-related objects, assembled by local physician Donovan McCune and donated to the city of Vallejo in the 1960s. Judith Hilburg, President of the McCune Committee, introduced the collection and showed us some of their finest incunables (books printed before 1500) and other treasures.
Institute member Peter Meyerhof gave an illustrated talk about José de la Rosa and California’s first printing press. The Ramage press arrived in Monterey in 1834 and was used by a series of governing authorities, including Mariano Vallejo, to issue proclamations and other printed information (and misinformation, in the case of an already obsolete Spanish book of home remedies). Although the name Agustín Zamorano is usually associated with the press, Peter’s research has revealed that de la Rosa was its main user, both in Monterey (spelled Monterrey in those days) and in Sonoma, where he worked for General Vallejo in a number of capacities.
We then heard a talk about a Victorian-era home entertainment called toy theater or paper theater and a project the McCune Collection is developing to further explore printing history. Michael and Valerie Nelson of Magical Moonshine Theater are using this form of puppetry to develop a performance based on William Morris’s illustrations of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in the “masterpiece of publishing” known as the Kelmscott Chaucer. We also had the opportunity to peruse a display of other recent examples of toy theater, often based on illustrated children’s books but not exclusively aimed at children.
You can learn more about the McCune Collection at mccunecollection.org, the puppeteers at magicalmoonshine.org, and the Vallejo Museum at vallejomuseum.org.