After a brief probate battle, the late Pat Hathaway’s remarkable collection of historical California photographs, along with his own photographic work, found a home at the Monterey County Historical Society where the society’s Executive Director James Perry said it will be well preserved.
“We enjoy state-of-the-art protective systems,” Perry said. “We have climate-controlled vaults, dry fire suppression systems, and the latest in security and surveillance systems. Those were important factors in us being awarded this collection.”
With over 30 filing cabinets of negatives, along with boxes and folders filled with prints, the society now is the guardian of one of the largest historical photographic archives in the country.
“The collection of historical photographs that he put together numbers over 80,000 specimens,” Perry said. “They date all the way back to the late 1840s. This means that this remarkable collection also demonstrates the evolution of photography in all its various formats, from tintypes to glass plate negatives to finally digital images.”
The collection also includes thousands of specimens of printed ephemera, such as theatrical bills and advertising handouts, as well as 50 boxes of books on California history.
While the core of the photography collection documents Monterey County, the images span the history of the West Coast, including images from the Alaskan Gold Rush and extensive documentation of the California Missions. There are also a substantial number of photographs of San Benito County, both before and after it split away from Monterey County in 1874.
“We consider San Benito County to be the child of Monterey County,” Perry said. “And there are many images in the collection that document important moments in that area’s history.”
While Hathaway’s collection centered on early photographs, his own work as a photographer, which is part of the collection, documents areas throughout the state.
“The collection includes hundreds of thousands of Mr. Hathaway’s images as well,” Perry said. “He was raised in Pacific Grove and went to Vietnam. When he returned in 1968, he began to capture the development of art and culture, as well as industry and commerce, in the Monterey Bay Area.”
The sheer size of the collection made it difficult to find an institution willing to take on the task of cataloging, curating, and digitizing the photographs.
UC-Berkeley’s Bancroft Library showed interest in the collection but would only accept it if there was a large endowment attached to it. CSU-Monterey Bay was also considered, but it lacked space for the massive collection.
The cataloging itself was left uncompleted at the time of Hathaway’s death in 2021. Perry said that only a fraction of the 550,843 images in the collection have been inventoried, and it will take considerable time and money to finish the job.
The goal is to eventually have all of the images available to the public, said board vice president Rubén Mendoza.
“I have been trying to advance the cause of digitalization and electronic storage,” Mendoza said. “But one of the challenges we have is that the catalog currently is largely on paper. So we have a very large task ahead of us. But we have people who are interested in helping us and this kind of thing has been done before.”
One possibility for funding is through the California Revealed program, sponsored by the California State Library, which helps institutions digitalize their collections to allow public access.
“I think they would agree to it,” Perry said. “If they didn’t we would have to fortify our volunteer corps to catalog. But it is one thing to get the cataloging funded and another to fund the ongoing conservation work.”
One source of funds will be the California Views Historical Photo Collection, which was created by Hathaway as a way to sell prints, and which Perry intends to maintain. Perry is also looking into grants and donations to build an endowment that will pay for a full-time curator.
Mendoza said that integrating these historically valuable photographs into the archives of the society will provide better tools to understand the history of the region.
“Now, not only do we have the documentary records extending back to 1770 and the founding of Monterey,” he said, “we now have a collection that will complement the archival collections at the society. I have long admired the idea that someone would invest themself so thoroughly into creating such a great collection and I am really excited that we will have it here to preserve.”
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