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Peter E. Palmquist
1936-2003  66 yrs old

1977 Peter Palmquist-Colorized_hi_resai.jpg
Pam Mendelsohn and Peter Palmquist.jpg
1987 Peter Palmquist by Tom Knight Portrait-Colorized.jpg

Stereoscopic Immortality

The title Peter choose for his keynote speech at the 1993 NSA convention in San Diego—"Stereoscopic Immortality"—could all too easily be seen as prophetic. He was talking, in fact, about an immortality created through the sharing of images and knowledge with generations to come. He stressed the point that this can only happen if the images and information remain intact, in some logical order, and accessible to anyone interested.

Tagged "stereoscopic" to fit the NSA audience, his prescription for immortality applied to images of any format or source and went far beyond just leaving behind a tidy collection in acid-free boxes. He went over the need to identify the subject and maker of each image as far as possible. Well documented subjects or photographers could then be shared through essays, articles, exhibits or even projected slide shows.

A good part of the second half of Peter's talk dealt with insuring that collections and any research surrounding them survive the eventual demise of the collector. A mention in a will or casual instructions to relatives generally fail the cause of immortality, and his recommendations went as far as visiting museums, libraries or universities to arrange a permanent repository for your collection where it would be appropriately protected, cataloged and made available. Some in the audience may have felt he was expecting a lot of them, but his advice came nowhere near the level of commitment to photographic history that he had already made personally, and had literally built his life around.

1982 Matt Rebholtz and Peter Palmquist National Stereoscopic Association convention San Jose CA by Susan Pinsky
Matt Rebholtz and Peter Palmquist by Sus

After leaving the army in 1960 (he was a photographer at Allied Headquarters in Paris), Peter attended Humboldt State University in California, received a B.A. in art and was employed as the university photographer for 28 years. In 1971, to quote from the obituary distributed by his family:

Peter stopped by an antique store in McKinleyville, where the owner asked him what he collected. His response? "Nothing." She asked him what he did for a living. When he explained he was a photographer, she gave him "a fist  full" of old 
photographs, taken by local photographers completely unknown to him.The rest is history.

That fistful of photographs blossomed into a passion and an obsession. At his death, he had amassed more than 150,000 images, including scores of rare images from the earliest days of western American photography and some 50,000 photographs documenting more than 100 years of history in Humboldt County, California. With tremendous enthusiasm, he recently transferred his extensive collection of images and research materials to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.


1982 John Waldsmith and Peter Palmquist at Lou and Jewelle Smaus home by Susan Pinsky.jpg
1982 John Waldsmith talking with Peter Palmquist at Lou and Jewelle Smaus' home by Susan Pinsky 
1982 John Dennis and Peter Palmquist NSA
1982 John Dennis talking with Peter Palmquist at the National Stereoscopic Assn convention in San Jose, CA by Susan Pinsky 
1997 Peter-Nancy_hi_resai.jpg
Photography in the West 1 and 2 by Peter

Peter retired from Humboldt State in 1989 to devote full time to research, writing and collecting. Of the 340 articles he wrote for various publications, 22 were for Stereo World. His article "The Stereographs of Peter Britt," Stereo World, vol. 9, no. 2, earned the 1983 NSA award for the best historical article. In 1987 he was awarded Fellow of the NSA for Distinguished Scholarship and Extraordinary Knowledge of Stereoscopy. His honors, professional appointments and assignments from other photographic and historical organizations and publications literally go on for pages.

He published over 60 books (one with the NSA, Lawrence & Houseworth/Thomas Houseworth & Company: A Unique View of the West 1860-1886) and gave lectures all over the country throughout his career. None of this was achieved with any "professional" academic credentials or doctorates as any sort of historian, yet his contributions to photographic history went far beyond the work of even the most dedicated amateur, the most obsessive collector, or the most passionate dilettante.

Peter's ultimate goal wasn't the acquisition of images and knowledge, but the sharing of whatever he was able to unearth. He never let the constraints of finances, time or institutional procedures interfere with that, and in the process his efforts surpassed those of many well paid academics with large staffs. Asked why he never acquired any academic credentials, he once replied, "I would rather spend my life working on the material than running around trying to get a doctorate. I let my work speak for itself."

The quantity and quality of that work loudly proclaim authentic immortality.

I knew of Peter long before I met him. In the early 1980s I subscribed to American West magazine, in which I kept seeing fascinating articles on early Western photographers by a guy named Peter E. Palmquist. I also noticed that he was listed as the magazine's photo editor. "What a cool job," I mused. Clearly, this fellow was passionate about what he did, and had fun doing it! At the end of that decade, I finally got to meet Peter at a Daguerreian Society symposium. He immediately struck me as a warm, helpful person who would make the time for you if you had a question. In the following months, John Graf, president of the society, told me that Peter was working to establish an annual publication and asked if I would assist him. At first, I'm sure Peter had me on "double-secret probation"...would I be a useless appendage, or a real contributor? In the end, we had a productive and enjoyable three-year run together as the publication's editor and associate editor. After that gig fizzled out, Peter and I agreed that we worked together as a team too well to simply go our separate ways. We tinkered with ideas: Could we establish a serial publication on early photography? Write magazine articles or a book-length biography? We settled on the idea of writing a biographical encyclopedia of early California photographers. He would ship me boxes of his notes (guaranteed to keep the U.S. Postal Service solvent for years), and I'd shape them up into biographical entries. Months into the project, Peter called one day. "You know," he said, "since we're doing California, we really need to cover Nevada as well, because most of the early Nevada photographers came from California." Fine. Months more passed. "You know," Peter suggested, "it makes a lot of sense to include Oregon, too." Every month he would add a new state, territory, or country. "If it's March, it must be Guatemala." Birthing that book was at times a difficult process as we struggled to invent a format that was our own. Peter asked me one day, "Have you come to the point yet where you absolutely hate the manuscript?" "Yes," I replied. "Good," he chuckled. "That's a sure sign we're halfway finished with it." His sense of humor often helped me get through trying days. Before Peter was finished working his wicked powers of persuasion on me, we had covered North America west of the Mississippi River. The results were the books Pioneer Photographers of the Far West and the forthcoming Pioneer Photographers from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. By some twist of fate, we actually had finished the last of the text of the latter book on the same day Peter left Arcata on that final trip to Emeryville.

A few years ago, one drizzly February day, I rode with Peter and Pam to the foothills where he lived as a child near Ferndale, California. He pointed to a patch of wild-flowers (daffodils?) growing along the roadside and said that those were a sure indication that a long-vanished pioneer homestead once stood on the site. Peter may have "vanished" physically, but the seeds he sowed in his lifetime have sprouted a rich and beautiful bounty that photo-researchers will long benefit from. To me, Peter was a mentor, confidante, colleague, collaborator, and dear friend. He was like a father to many of us. The best thing we as photo-historians can do to honor and remember Peter is to advance the field of research and strive to do it with the passion, conviction, and benevolence that he evinced. And when someone comes to you with an earnest question or request, please lend a hand if possible.
So, Peter, I will see you at the next destination. As you liked to say, "more anon."

Photographers by Peter E Palmquist book.

- Thomas R. Kailbourn


There were many times when I contacted Peter for research help— usually on female photographers, Watkins, & Shew. He always tried to take the time to be helpful. I am also someone who receives similar requests & know how hard it is to find the time and offer answers. He always amazed me with his effort to do so. At least as we do books & articles in the future, we will often indeed be remembering him with one the best memorials possible: our footnote references to his many research findings!

- Larry West

A Measure of PEP

 - Kate Ware, Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Power of Honesty

Peter was one of those kind-hearted, generous souls that are too rarely encountered in one's life. I was fortunate to have made his acquaintance while I was still quite young, perhaps fourteen or fifteen. My enthusiasm for photographic history triggered my initial contact with Peter, which evolved into a lifetime friendship. Peter was one of those who have left an indelible mark on my consciousness. I am particularly fond of this story:

On one of Peter's visits to my Stockton, CA home he showed me the power of honesty in collecting. I think I was about seventeen at the time; I had been saving California photographer imprints for his growing research collection. For me it was like finding new and rare butterfly specimens for science. I delighted in discovering something that Peter had previously not seen.

PeterPalmquist at a camera show.jpg

No Longer An E-mail Away

 - John McWilliams.

Well over a year ago Peter Palmquist found out about my work in the history of Indian photography. He wrote to me wanting to know more...and that resulted in several e-mails between us. I was very touched at his interest, very impressed by his erudite scholarship and more importantly very inspired by all that he had to say by way of encouragement. His enquiry and interest into the work of Indian Women photographers inspired me to look again. Now I treasure those messages that I wish could be held and preserved in a way more than the electronic permits. Its sad that he is no longer an e-mail away when I need to make an enquiry or look for a reference in the history of contemporary photography.

- Niyatee Shinde, Mumbai, India

Beyond Academics

- Harris Fogel - Chairman, Media Arts Dept.
The University of the Arts Philadelphia, PA

- Carole Glauber

Peter was a very well respected historian, collector, researcher and friend to many photography collectors and dealers I met Peter several years ago, after corresponding with him many times about the early stereo views of Yosemite. I had sold him a group of Yosemite views by Weed that he put in the exhibit at the first Riverside NSA convention several years ago. It was a great feeling that he put my views into that exhibit. He was always a fair, friendly, and knowledgeable guy. He was very active in many different clubs and organizations,.and he always took the time to answer any question you had about early western photographers. I always looked forward to seeing and talking to him. He will be very much missed.

A Wealth of Information

- James Eason
Archivist for Pictorial Collections The Bancroft Library


Watkins at the Getty

For several years Peter and I had been working as partners on a catalog raisonne of all of the mammoth plate photographs of Carleton Watkins, a subject of mutual interest that goes back almost thirty years for both of us. Peter had visited the Getty many times as a consultant and we met together dozens of times at various locations to pursue our research. The project will continue without Peter, but it will be the less without his contributions as we continue the process of transforming the raw information into a book.

Peter was my very dear friend, a much respected professional colleague, and a wonderful human being. I will miss the conversations we had about the quirks and accomplishments of CEW. I will miss looking at mammoth plates together, magnifying glass in hand, never failing to be surprised by a piece of knowledge PP would bring to the conversation. We were scheduled to meet in Berkeley on January 14 and the news of his accident came to me there on the 13th while planning for what we would be doing the next day. May the Lord bless and keep him.

- Weston Naef - Curator of Photographs The J. Paul Getty Museum


- Pam Mendelsohn Arcata, CA
(Pam Mendelsohn was Peter's partner of 26 years. The couple had planned to marry in April, and to host a wedding celebration in July.)

Quote by Peter from Feb. 4, 2001 video interview "Well, The real message is, that if you're passionate about anything, that's kinda what life's about. so, whatever your idea is, whatever you want to pursue, do it whole heartedly and don't ever let anybody tell you,can't....fine, you can do it."

The Peter E. Palmquist Memorial Fund for
Historical Photographic Research

1997 Peter-Nancy_hi_resai.jpg

Sweat Shirt reads: I Have Always Imagined That Paradise Will Be A Kind Of Library .. Jorge Luis Borges


Peter is holding a box with a Women in Photography International Expo poster -special Royal Photographic Society edition, circa 1991, Bath, UK.Poster, photographed and created by WIP Member and WIPI Expo participant - Val Valandans

The Peter E. Palmquist Memorial Fund for Historical Photographic Research has a double emphasis: the study of under-researched women photographers internationally (past and present) and Western American photographers before 1900. Awards will be made biannually to independent researchers based on their application/proposal.

In addition, grant recipients will be asked to provide the Palmquist Fund's advisory board with a copy of any published work that results from their grant. The Yale University Library has agreed to add that copy to its permanent collections to complement the resources of the Peter E. Palmquist Collection of Western American and Women's Photography at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

The fund will be a combination endowment and expendable one. Obviously, all contributions are fully tax-deductible. The application process, due dates, etc. will be announced shortly.

The Humboldt Area Foundation, located in Bayside, California, was created in 1972. It is a community foundation that has been actively involved in creating endowments and expendable funds to serve a broad variety of interests and needs. Grants and awards can be made worldwide. The Peter E. Palmquist Memorial Fund for Historical Photographic Research will join a family of over 400 funds.

Donations can be sent to: Humboldt Area Foundation, PO Box 99, Bayside, CA 95524. Checks should be made payable to the Humboldt Area Foundation and indicate Peter Palmquist Memorial Fund in the lower left corner. Any questions, please call: Alexandra Reid, Director of Donor Services at 707-442-2993, x302; email is alexreid@hafoundation.

Peter Palmquist photo: Nancy Clendaniel/Renton, WA, October 1997

Pam Mendelsohn and Peter Palmquist.jpg
peter palmquist 1a larger-Colorized_hi_resai.jpg
1984 NSA Manchester NH Aug by Susan Pins
1984 NSA Manchester NH Aug by Susan Pins
1984 NSA Manchester NH Aug by Susan Pins
Peter Palmquist_1975

1975 Peter E Palmquist

1982 Peter Palmquist at Smaus house NSA

1982 Peter Palmquist signing one of his books at the home of NSA Board Chairman
 Lou Smaus - Stereo by Susan Pinsky

Dassonville back cover by Peter Palmquis
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Peter Palmquist Women in photo la.jpg

January 24, 2002


N     O    R    T    H             C    O    A    S    T

W            E            E           K         L          Y    

Story by Bob Donan

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PETER PALMQUIST IS A MAN obsessed -- obsessed with learning all he can about the lives of photographers. Over the course of the last three decades, he fed his obsession and amassed a collection -- amazing in its size and uniqueness -- of around 250,000 images with extensive notes to accompany them.

Working out of his home in Arcata, Palmquist built his private archive, one that rivals the collections of public institutions. With 85,000 images by Humboldt County photographers, it is a major resource for those with an interest in local history.

But anyone interested in seeing these slices of time will have to travel to do so, at least for the immediate future. Palmquist sold all of his photos and notes to Yale University last year. Most of the material has already been shipped to New Haven, Conn., where it will be permanently archived at the university's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

It began with a handful of old photos. It was 1971 and Palmquist was browsing in a McKinleyville antique store.

"The woman who ran the place asked me what I was looking for, what I collected," he recalled. "I said, `Nothing.' She asked, `What do you do?' and I said, `I'm a photographer.' She said, `Well, surely you should collect photographs.'

"Before I left she gave me a double fistful of carte de visites, photographs by people I had never heard of, all from the Arcata-Eureka area," Palmquist said. "I was intrigued. I wanted to learn more about them."

And that seed of curiosity about the photographs and the photographers who shot them continued to grow. While learning everything he could about Humboldt County's pioneer photographers, Palmquist expanded his investigations. By the end of the century the self-taught researcher had become one of the foremost authorities in his field, an internationally respected expert not just on Humboldt's photographers but about the history of photography on the American frontier.


Palmquist's rustic home is nestled among trees not far from his former place of employment, Humboldt State University. From the outside, the building behind the house doesn't look like a world-class library. But inside floor-to-ceiling bookshelves are crammed with books on photography and volume after volume of bound notes.

Over the course of last year trucks from Yale made a regular pilgrimage to the Palmquist repository and what remains today is mostly material connected to another of his obsessions, the Women in Photography International Archive.

A few old photos in sleeves sit on a worktable. Nearby is a thick book, Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary, 1840-1865, "the bible on the subject," he calls it. While it seems comprehensive, it's just volume one of what Palmquist projects to be a five-volume set.

Assembled with help from New York-based editor/house painter Thomas Kailbourn, the 1,216-page Pioneer Photographers tome was published last spring by Stanford University Press. In November Palmquist and Kailbourn received the Denver Public Library's Caroline Bancroft History Prize, an award given annually to the authors of non-fiction books about Western history.


As an expert on the lives of photographers, Palmquist is used to putting together biographic sketches. How does he describe himself?

"This is my 53rd year as a photographer," he begins, and then pauses. "I'm local," he says after a moment of reflection.

Local, but not native. Born in Oakland, Palmquist moved to a "side-hill shack" on Boone's Creek in the hills above Ferndale when he was 8, his father intent on a "back-to-the-land experience."

The fact that they had gravity-fed water and no electricity didn't stop him from developing an interest in photography.

"When I was about 12 I started using my mother's box camera. There was nobody in the community who did photography who could show me what to do, so I just read about it. I went to Wing's Pharmacy in town and bought chemicals mail order. By the time I was in high school, I was really into it. I became the resident expert."

After graduating from Ferndale High, he took his photo skills to the military. From 1954-59 he was stationed in Paris, home of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, the military arm of NATO, a position that had him photographing generals, presidents, movie stars, princes and queens.

When his stint ended he was offered a position in Brazil, but with a wife and a new baby he thought it might not be a good idea. Instead he returned to Ferndale and found work as a census taker.

After enrolling at Humboldt State in 1960, courtesy of the GI Bill, he learned that the school's photographer had quit.

"I took the job and kept it for 23 years," he said as he quickly moves to a topic more dear to his heart: research.

Just as he taught himself the fundamentals of photography as a boy, Palmquist's entry into the world of historical research was for the most part without guidance. He has a college degree -- in ceramics, not history.

"I use methods that would not be taught in universities, but they're effective. I find stuff no one else can find because I don't know any better. When you gather material endlessly, you gain a lot of insight," he said.

Palmquist pored over books looking for clues, read every census record and "most of California's newspapers and magazines through 1870 and some through the 1940s."

The Humboldt Room at HSU was a starting point, but they were just beginning to gather historic photos.

"In fact I was instrumental in bringing the Ericson plates there," he said, referring to a turn-of-the-century Arcata photographer who was the subject of Palmquist's first book, Fine California Views: The Photographs of A.W. Ericson.

"I had met the family and helped them salvage some of the plates from an old barn," he explained.

He was already building a collection. At a glance it might have seemed unfocused since it dealt with such a broad subject: "the lives of photographers."

"I'm not passionate about collecting photos of ships, not passionate about railroads. I want to know who the photographer was," said Palmquist. "And I've profited from staying in the field. I've been the beneficiary of people who have died and given me their stuff. I have research notes from colleagues and collectors, things they left me. As you combine all this information a larger picture comes into focus, one that benefits from the work of a lot of people. I don't find every clue myself, but I accumulate them."

He shared his discoveries in countless articles for scholarly publications and historical society newsletters and put together more books. (His 63rd was "on the press" when we spoke last month.) And he mounted exhibitions.

In 1981, while doing research for a major project, Palmquist met George Miles, newly hired curator of the Western Americana collection at Yale's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

"Peter was working on his first big Carlton Watkins project, a book and a show that was done in conjunction with the Amon Carter Museum," said Miles in a call from Yale. "He came here to look at our things, about which he knew much more than I did. So from the first I began to learn from Peter."

When it comes to the history of the West, the Beinecke is one of the major players. You want to read the field notes from the Lewis and Clark expedition? The originals are there, along with the original field maps.

"We're clearly one of the best in the world when it comes to the history of the West up until about World War I. Once you get past that we can't begin to hold a candle to the sorts of collections that state universities and state historical societies have built up for their particular regions."

When Miles learned that Palmquist's collection might be for sale he was interested. When he talked with Peter and learned just how extensive it was, he became very interested.

Why is it significant?

"It is probably the largest private collection of 19th century Western photography ever built," said Miles. "I don't know of a larger one. There are people out there who pursue this with a passion, and there are interesting private collections that come up, But Peter's is on another order of magnitude.

"There's more to it than that," Miles continued. "It also is extraordinarily thorough in certain areas. Peter was simply comprehensive in collecting Northern California work, particularly Humboldt County, from the earliest days of photography through to the mid-20th century. Peter went out of his way to find the work of every major photographer and to be able to document not just the history of the region but the history of photography as it was practiced.

"I would also say that part of what interested me about Peter's collection is not only the original material he collected, but all the background research that he did and compiled. The details he gathered are just staggering."

 Each photo in his collection offers a small glimpse of the past. While Palmquist's intent has always been to look at history from a photographer's point of view, other historians see different things in his collection.





Among them is Matina Kilkenny, [in photo above] research and collections manager of the Humboldt County Historical Society. "There's a story of the community that's part of each photograph, and I think that it goes beyond who took the photograph. We value them for what they can tell us about a time and a place," said Kilkenny at the society's headquarters in a Eureka Victorian converted into offices and archives.

Like many in the community, Kilkenny sees the sale of the Palmquist collection as the loss of an irreplaceable historical resource.

"The historical society has a wonderful collection, more than 20,000 photos. It's nothing compared to Peter's collection. But what I regret the most is the loss of information, explicit information about individual images," she said.

"Every picture we have tells us something about our history. We need information to interpret that history. We know more if we have the writing on the back of the photo. It might be a note that came with the photograph that says who the people were or the address of a building. That's what left with the collection.

"A good example is the picture you've seen on a poster recently with three postmen.

[below right] A woman had seen the photo and thought one of the men might be a

relation. She asked Peter if he had any information about it. He knew who the people

were; it was information that had not been given out before. He emphasized how

lucky she was to get that information because that photo was being boxed up the

next day [for shipment to Yale]. I have to say that made me mad."


Palmquist is well aware of the fact that there are many in the  community who were

dismayed when they learned he had sold his collection to a university back east.

"I take it your story is about how this stuff has escaped Humboldt County," he said at

one point in our interview. "And I'm regretful," he added.

"There are all sorts of critics who feel that the collection should stay here. If it were to remain here, who's going to have it? Let's say the Historical Society got it. They have limited staff. They have no provisions for maintaining a historical record for the stuff with their system. They might not put all the Ericson photographs together because they sort by subject matter. Suddenly they're confronted with putting all the trains in this pile and the Indians in that pile. That would destroy what I've done."

Kilkenny points out that it was Palmquist who devised the historical society's catalogue system. Was there ever a chance that the collection could have gone to the historical society?

"He never gave us any impression that he was interested in donating one photograph to this collection, much less 85,000. He's never donated a picture to us that I can think of.

"Peter is an information broker. It's that simple," Kilkenny continued. "And I don't think that people who gave photos to him and shared photos with him thought that they were selling the information that went with them; they didn't know it was going out of the area."

In his own defense Palmquist emphasizes his reputation.

"Reputation is everything. You can imagine that there are others like me in the world. Some of them can't be trusted. Those who are in the system know who can be trusted and who can't. People will give me things they wouldn't give anyone else because they trust me. I can't say I have no critics, but most of my critics are people who just don't know the circumstances, who don't understand what I'm doing."

He dismisses the idea that any local institution has the resources even to deal with the portion of the collection on Humboldt photographers.

"There are 85,000 photographs (in the Humboldt portion). Are they going to put them in archival sleeves, in archival boxes, find shelving space for them, space where the temperature and humidity are completely controlled?

"Finding the proper respectful home was essential. It's not like these are all Humboldt pictures or pictures of Nevada City or pictures of Hawaii. The point is, if you divorce them from the intellectual effort, the information I've gathered about all the relationships the photographers have one to another, you don't have a core collection. If it was dispersed it would be pointless. It would destroy it."

Did he consider selling to the Bancroft at UC Berkeley, another library with an extensive collection on Western history?

"How long would it take them to deal with my collection? It wouldn't happen in my lifetime," Palmquist replied.

"Part of Peter's concern was to try to find an institution that had the wherewithal to manage the collection effectively," said Miles, Yale's Beinecke curator. "I would respectfully say that there are only a handful of institutions in the country with the resources to house the collection, appropriately maintain it and handle readers' needs over a period of time. I'm fortunate to work at one of them."

While Miles would not say how much Yale paid for Palmquist's collection, he emphasized that the photographs could easily have been sold for two or three times as much money if it had been broken up and sold over a period of time.

"The point is, it wasn't about the money; it was really about preserving the collection for scholarship," said Miles. And he contends Yale is in the forefront when it comes to studying the West.

"One of the constant issues for those of us collecting Western history here at Yale is, `Why are you taking that stuff east?' It's a question we hear over and over again."

His response: The history of the Far West is an important part of the history of America. Yale has demonstrated its commitment to the field by producing many leading scholars who go on to teach at colleges and universities in Western states.

Palmquist said he chose the Beinecke in part because it's "on the corridor for students doing research."

"That's something that's lacking here. I'm next to a university, but the students never see this place. They don't realize that cutting edge stuff is being done right in their back yard. No one here understands it."


What happens to the collection now that it's at Yale? Palmquist has suggested that with digital technology it will soon be possible for people in Humboldt County to view the collection online.

"We're making efforts in the digital field to put our collections up on the Web where they can be more accessible for students, scholars and interested amateurs from around the world who can't ever get to Beinecke," said Miles.


"But," he added, "I don't want to make rash promises." Because of the vastness of the Palmquist archives and because of the broad range of collections at Yale, it will be some time before the collection is digitized.

"The Beinecke Library runs from papyrus right through to modern literary manuscripts and is extraordinarily strong in many fields. The communities of users around the world are all interested in how digital technology will make their life easier.

"We're all trying to figure out what works best and how to make it happen, but we do have a commitment to broad access. We collect material so it can be used, not to lock it up."

Despite the sale, Palmquist's research hasn't stopped. He's still hard at work studying women photographers, still gathering photos and filling files with notes.

He rests easier now that his life's work is secure "in one of the finest rare book libraries in the world."

"The collection will live there in perpetuity. The facility itself is like a cathedral with translucent marble panels so you have this beautiful soft light. It's almost a mystical experience to walk in," Palmquist said.

The way he sees it, the photos he gathered now have a secure place in history.

"I'm simply a curator. These things pass through my hands, but they belong to society."

Images: Carte de visites from the Humboldt County Historical Society photo collection.At left, is Judge S. M. Buck, attorney. In the middle is a young boy identified on the back side (right) as "J.B. Brown's little boy,"along with other collection information.

2002 North Coast Journal judgebuck.jpg
2002 North Coast Journal small boy_hi_resai.jpg
2002 North Coast Journal J.B little boy_hi_resai.jpg
2002 North Coast Journal three postmen_hi_resai.jpg
2002 North Coast Journal Matina Kilkenny, research and collections mgr of the Humboldt Cou
2002 North Coast Journal Matina Kilkenny, research and collections mgr of the Humboldt Cou
2002 North Coast Journal Matina Kilkenny, research and collections mgr of the Humboldt Cou
Carlton Watkins stereoview.jpg

Some of the 63 books
edited or written
by Peter E. Palmquist

Pioneers Photographers by Peter E_edited_edited.png

A Collector's Obsession: Photographs Of Humboldt County, California From The Peter E. Palmquist Collection. 2001.

Pioneer Photographers Of The Far West: A Biographical Dictionary, 1840-1865 Peter E. Palmquist and Thomas R. Kailbourn. 2001.

Giants in the Earth: The California Redwoods by Peter Johnstone editor, Peter E. Palmquist photo editor/photographer 2001.

Women Photographers: A Selection Of Images From The Women In Photography International Archive, 1850-1997 Peter E. Palmquist and Gia Musso. 1997.

Shadowcatchers: A Directory of Women In California Photography two volumes 1990/1991.

Camera Fiends & Kodak Girls: Selections By And About Women In Photography, two volumes edited by Peter E. Palmquist. 1989/1995.

Return To El Dorado: A Century Of California Stereographs From The Collection Of Peter Palmquist. 1986.

The Photographers Of The Humboldt Bay Region Peter E. Palmquist with Lincoln Kilian. - 1985.

Carleton E. Watkins: Photographer of the American West 1983.

With Nature's Children: Emma B. Freeman, 1880-1928 Camera And Brush 1977.

Fine California Views: The Photographs Of A. W. Ericson 1975.

Other Photo Collections

With over 20,000 images, the Humboldt County Historical Society (703 8th St., Eureka) has the largest public collection of historic photographs remaining in Humboldt County. For more information got to:

The Humboldt Room at HSU holds 2,000 plus images. Information about the collection is available online at:


497 plates from the Ericson photograph collection have been digitized and can be viewed online at:


[Above is a photo of the Arcata Plaza, by A. W. Ericson, courtesy of the Humboldt Room, HSU Library]
The Humboldt Room at the Eureka branch of the Humboldt County Library (1313 3rd St.) has a few hundred photos including "Shades of Humboldt," a small archive of photos copied from family collections. The Clarke Memorial Museum (3rd and E Sts., Eureka) also has a small photo collection.

Chromogenics in Fortuna (1130 Main St.), a business run by Greg and Penny Rumney, has what seems to be the largest remaining private photo collection: over 50,000 images, most of them from Humboldt. Call them at 725-1200.

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library website is at:
It includes a searchable database of around 21,000 scanned images from the Beinecke's collections:

Peter Palmquist's Women in Photography International Archive is online at:

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A Dynamo of Activity and Information

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Peter was an exhaustive researcher who scoured libraries and historical society archives for decades to tease out every fact he could from primary sources on photographers in the West and women photographers. He lectured extensively throughout the world. He was the editor-in-chief of Photographers: A Sourcebook for Historical Research, past editor of The Daguerreian Annual, contributing editor or on the editorial board of Journal of the West, The Photographic Historian, The Californians, The Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology. Peter published hundreds of books, articles and papers on many different aspects of photography. His latest project was his Women in Photography International Archive, the intent of which was to cover every facet of the participation of women in photography from the beginning to the present.

Peter was a giant in our world, a meticulous, caring, ubiquitous dynamo of activity and information who cast treasure after treasure into our community. I will miss him.

- Carl Mautz, Mautz Publishing, Nevada City, CA

- John Dennis, Editor - Stereo World magazine, National Stereoscopic Association

Deeper Lives

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Peter Palmquist was our friend for over 20 years. He was profoundly sensitive, fascinating, considerate and generous. Peter's love of sharing his knowledge, his interests, his enthusiasm and his intellect were unequaled. He gave so much more to the world, both in photographic history and in appreciation for life. His books, his work on historical photographers and daguerreotypes, his contributions will live on, but his physical presence will always be missed. I'm sure there are many of us who never told him how much we loved him, because we just never imagined he would be gone so soon, but we did love you, Peter. Our lives are deeper, more interesting and fuller for having known you. Bless you, Peter, wherever you are.

- Susan Pinsky & David Starkman, Culver City, CA

Lend A Hand

Footsteps of Original Research


I feel I must also express the sense of loss to our community. When I read the news yesterday, I hoped that a miracle would happen because I could not imagine the field of photo history without Peter. Everything he did was original research and we are all indebted to him. The Amon Carter Museum, in particular, benefited enormously from his research on Carleton Watkins for our exhibition in 1983. That was before my tenure here, but was the first time I visited here, driving up from Austin for the symposium. In recent years, I made sure that our library acquired every book by Peter. I just checked our catalog and it lists 45 titles. I cannot imagine anyone else being able to follow in his footsteps.

- Barbara McCandless, Curator of Photographs Amon Carter Museum

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1900 Image of telephone exchange from Photography in the West 2 interior image by Peter Palmquist

J.J. Reilly A Stereoscopic Journey by Pe

Two things I adored about Peter Palmquist: He was an absolute original. He had an unwavering conviction in the importance of his work. I wish a greater measure of these things for all of us—it's the least we can do in Peter's absence. Out in California, we started calling him PEP, after his initials and his energy. PEP was a fun guy but could drive you to distraction with his questions and his unflagging insistence on getting things right. Of course that always came in handy later, when you needed to do some fact checking. He was very generous about inviting people up to Arcata and I always wanted to go see if his house was made out of file cabinets with a roof on top and if he used file folders for a blanket. How did he keep track of everything? Where did he put it all? Peter was an amazing person and it's a stunning blow to lose him this way.


On this particular visit, as he combed over my most recent finds, he singled out a cabinet card by San Francisco photographer, William Shew. I wondered why he was pondering over one of the most common imprints available. He asked "How much?" I replied, "What did I pay for it?" as I always left my prices on the backs of these cards since in those days I was not much of a dealer. I always sold Peter imprints at cost, and Peter always added something extra for my effort. He replied "$2.50." So I said, "Well then, that's the price." His next sentence stopped me cold. "Would it still be $2.50 if I told you that the man in the portrait was William Shew?" My seventeen-year-old brain tried to process the situation and all I could say with a gulp was, "I guess so." Peter laughed and said, "I would never do such a thing." And he added "Think about what you will want for it and sell it to me when you are ready."

From that day forward I have remembered that lesson, and have done my very best to live by that level of character. I had been subjected to a few underhanded dealings from the sharks in the collecting world prior to this incident, and had begun to think this was the norm. Peter restored my faith in collecting and in the sharing of knowledge. The loss of Mr. Peter Palmquist can never be repaired. There was none amongst us willing to do the difficult work that had to be done in order to understand our pioneer photographers as a whole, and the important contributions that they left behind. In doing this work he joins the ranks of the brightest of those important luminaries. He was their voice in this age, and through his work they will not be forgotten. And so let us not forget this man who inspired so many of us to become historians. He planted that seed in me many years ago, and I am grateful to have been counted as one of his friends. Goodbye, old friend.

Peter Palmquist at a camera show

I first met Peter when I was an undergraduate student at Humboldt State University in the late 70s. I loved Photo History, and only one course was offered in it, taught by a photo professor. Somehow I discovered that one of the best photo historians around, lived just around the corner from me, and worked in the Audio Visual Department of the school. Peter, my teachers explained to me, didn't have the formal degree needed to be a faculty member, or to teach in the Art Department. The ludicrousness of having someone of his talent, knowledge, and dedication being relegated to the AV Department, rather than a valued member of the faculty was not lost on me. Today, I try to look far beyond credentials and academic pettiness to find truly brilliant and dedicated faculty for colleagues, and the lessons I learned from Peter's experience have never left me. I told him once that the university's lack of acceptance and encouragement reminded me of Erik Satie whose work was dismissed by his colleagues, all of whom are now forgotten, while Satie's work lives on.

When I finally met him and visited his library and collection, I was blown away. I just couldn't fathom what he had gathered, cataloged, and researched, with almost no support... just passion and love for the medium. It made me pause when I entered back into my "formal" classes at the university.

He struggled for a correction and expansion of photographic history to include greater numbers of women, a better appreciation and understanding of the impact of the Daguerreotype, and an embrace of regional photographers. He published a number of books and articles, and from what I knew, it was done without much, if any financial remuneration. It's a reminder of the impact a true scholar and passionate advocate for the medium can have. From his home in Arcata, he embraced a singular and highly personal struggle for the medium he loved. I'm really going to miss him, and I know that I'm not alone.

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Commitment to Women Photographers

I am pleased to see so many people express the same sentiments I experienced with Peter over the years. In the late 1980s soon after arriving in Oregon, a colleague suggested I call him. What I thought would be a brief chat turned into a lengthy discussion of ways to approach various topics. I soon met Peter at a Women in Photography conference in Tucson and he warmly invited me to join him and a group for dinner. During the years I researched my Myra Albert Wiggins book, Peter often sent thick envelopes filled with photocopies and computer printouts of relevant information. When I wanted to pay him for the copies, he always replied, "Just send whatever you want." He read my 40,000 word manuscript twice!

The Women in Photography ( website is underwritten by Peter's energy and commitment to women photographers. He understood the need to make research and information in this field accessible to as many people as possible. His contribution to the history of women photographers and the encouragement he provided to others working in this area was exceptional. Peter's generosity and spirit extended beyond photography to his family and community. He took groups of Japanese exchange students backpacking in the Trinity mountains and always had time to care for Pam, Rebecca, and his children. That so many of us from around the globe share such affection for one person, is indicative of a remarkable, unusual, and generous individual. Thank you Peter, for giving so much to so many.

Weed Views at NSA


- George Polakoff Hubbard Woods IL

Peter has been a great influence in my career, and has not only contributed hugely to my knowledge of our field, but has inspired me with his enthusiasm and passion. He was always just an email away, in spite of his busy schedule, and I turned to him countless times.
I did my best to return the favors he so often granted by bringing new acquisitions and finds within our collections to his attention, but I know the balance was always tipped in my favor. The information and insights he could provide always outweighed the nuggets I turned up for his research, I'm sure. Yet, I always looked forward to his library visits and the opportunity to share an exciting discovery. I have fond memories of the trip I made to Arcata, finally taking him up on an invitation repeated over several years. I am amazed by his hospitality and generosity—knowing that he opened his home and his collections to so many over the years. The extent of his collection was impressive, but the thoroughness and organization of his research notes was truly astounding—what a wealth of information gathered as a foundation for others to build upon!

We at The Bancroft Library are collectively in his debt for the light he shed on our holdings, his advocacy for and participation in conservation and cataloging projects, and for the invaluable resources that he himself created for future scholars. I know that his impact, seen and unseen, on our institution will be a great benefit for generations to come. I am heartbroken at the loss of a great mentor and friend.

Max and Peter

Max is a 5 year old Pembroke Corgi. He has always been extremely tuned in to Peter and me. When I went through my cancer treatment, he bit his nails for a while. Every time I had chemo, he threw up once although I didn't. He experienced radiation fatigue. Before my treatment began, I woke up one night to find him standing with his nose in my mouth, inhaling deeply. He then lay his head on my mediastinum, which is where the tumor was.

Last Saturday, Peter and Max had just pulled into the parking lot of the Emeryville apartment. On previous such occasions, we had a routine. Peter phoned from the lobby. I raced down with Max's ball and a plastic bag for any poop. I took Max across the street to play and pee; Peter unloaded the car. But this time I was in Sacramento. Peter took Max across the street. As they were almost to the other side of the street, the car hit Peter. We know the make and model of the car. The driver actually stopped, turned around and looked, and then raced off. Max ran back to the building to get help. Someone who didn't know Max grabbed his leash, a woman named Tiffany. About a minute later, a man came to tell that someone had been seriously injured. This happened at 6:55pm. Peter was at the trauma center by 7:16. The neuro team assured me that he never felt it, that the severity of the brain injury was immediate. Young Tiffany took Max home with her to her apartment. Her boyfriend and she sat on the floor for hours with Max, talking with him as he continued to shake. She assured him I would come home. Her parents brought dog treats over at some point, traveling about 20 miles. Eventually, Tiffany thought they should go to bed. She invited Max to join them, and he leaped up onto their bed. At 4:00 in the morning, my dear friend Bobbie arrived, got Max, and went to our apartment.

It is my own personal belief that Max KNEW Peter was gone almost immediately. Here in Arcata, Max would usually be looking for Peter to figure out which corner of the place Peter is in. Now he is not looking. He is eating well, he is drinking, he is walking, and he is even chasing his ball. Peter will be buried with Max's old collar and with a copy of the image that was to be on our wedding announcement.

Open Books
Open Books
Open Books
Open Books

Peter Palmquist, 66; Photography Historian


JAN. 20, 2003


Peter Palmquist, a noted photography historian, author and creator of the Women in Photography Archive, has died. He was 66.

Palmquist, who was planning to marry in April, died Jan. 13 at Alameda County Medical Center Highland Hospital three days after being struck by a hit-and-run driver while walking his dog in Emeryville, Calif.

Paramedics rushed Palmquist to the hospital but he never regained consciousness. The dog, a corgi named Max, was not hurt.

As a collector, Palmquist concentrated on three areas: the American West; California, with a special interest in Humboldt County, where he lived most of his life; and professional women photographers. The Women in Photography Archive alone includes about 8,000 works -- some anonymous, some signed -- many by women who had their own photo studios around the turn of the 20th century.

Palmquist was one of three brothers born into a blue-collar family in Oakland. He had a college diploma from Humboldt State, but little formal education in art or photography history.

He was content to remain in the logging community of Arcata, near the Oregon border, where he lived in a house he restored over the years. He was more comfortable backpacking or gardening than touring exhibition openings.

‘Almost Anti-Academic’

“Peter was almost anti-academic in some ways,” said Weston Naef, curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Center. Naef was in Northern California the day Palmquist died, to meet with him about their long-running project to catalog the works of Carleton Watkins, a 19th century American photographer. The meeting never took place. “I’ve lost my most treasured colleague,” Naef said.


Palmquist had published his own book on Watkins, “Carleton E. Watkins: Photographer of the American West,” accompanied by an exhibition that traveled to museums in Fort Worth, St. Louis and Boston in 1983. The show included images of gardens, cityscapes and Spanish mission churches, correcting older assumptions that Watkins was exclusively a landscape photographer.

“With the Watkins show, the world took note of Peter,” Naef said. “It became widely known that he was capable of in-depth research of a particular kind.”

Palmquist’s research methods were the opposite of those of most photography historians, Naef explained. The typical approach is to begin with a written document, the Gettysburg Address, for example, and move from there to related images. “Peter began with the photograph,” Naef said. “For him that was the essential object. From the picture he was led to search for documents.”

His approach was compatible with his preference for obscure photographers he could afford to collect and could bring to life by starting with a few of their signed or unsigned pictures. His Women in Photography Archive contains hundreds of names of women not mentioned in any history book. To discover more about them requires painstaking research, the sort Palmquist became known for.

“He dealt with photographers who were more like grains of sand than big stars in the pantheon,” Naef said, “because he believed that the truth about any culture is in an accumulation of factoids.”

Palmquist began his career as an Army photographer. He married during his military service in Europe, returned to California in the late 1950s, took a job as the staff photographer for Humboldt State and enrolled as an undergraduate student. He and his wife had three daughters before divorcing.

Palmquist remained on staff at the university until retiring in 1989, supplementing his income for many years by photographing weddings -- more than 750 in all, most of them in Humboldt County.

He became interested in historic photographs in 1971 when he stopped at an antique store in McKinleyville, Calif. The shop owner asked him what he did for a living. His answer led her to show him a stash of old photographs of California. He bought all of them. “It blossomed into a passion and obsession,” Pam Mendelsohn, his fiancee and partner of 26 years, said of that first, accidental discovery.

Soon after Palmquist began to collect photographs, he started writing books and articles about them. He published about 60 books and several hundred articles on photography. He also served as president of several photography associations, including one that concentrates on daguerreotypes and another that studies stereopticons.

His most recent book, “Pioneer Photographers of the Far West” (2000), with Thomas Kailbourn, is a biographical dictionary covering 1840-1865. The authors intended it as the first in a series. They completed their second book, “Pioneer Photographers From the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains,” a few days before Palmquist’s death. It will be published late this year by Stanford University Press.

Mendelsohn said Palmquist had arranged for his private collection of more than 150,000 photographs and archive material to go to Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, known for its Americana holdings.

Over the years, Palmquist converted every existing toolshed and storage space on his Arcata property into an office, darkroom or archives. “It looked like a small college campus,” said Kailbourn, a freelance editor who lives in Wellsville, N.Y., about his first impression of the property. Palmquist restored the older buildings and built several others.

In the early 1970s, he was offered an exhibit of his growing collection at the International Center for Photography in New York City. Mendelsohn told him it was his debut in the world of photography historians and a chance to expand his network. “He said he didn’t think he’d go to the opening,” she recalled. “That was our first big fight.”

Worked on Miniseries

He went after all, and a stream of consulting jobs followed. One of the most prestigious was as a researcher for the PBS television miniseries “The West” with executive producer Ken Burns in 1996.

In recent years, amateur collectors and students have trekked to Arcata, curious to meet Palmquist and see his holdings. “He treated everyone who came to see him like royalty,” Kailbourn said. “He believed you didn’t have to have a PhD to do excellent research. For him, the main thing was to be passionate.”

In addition to his partner and fiancee, Mendelsohn, Palmquist is survived by three daughters, two brothers, one stepdaughter and several grandchildren.

A memorial is scheduled at 1 p.m. March 22 at the Morris Graves Museum of Art, 636 F St., Eureka. For details, call (707) 442-0278. Contributions in Palmquist’s name can be made to the Humboldt Arts Council, 636 F St., Eureka, CA 95501, or AFS Intercultural Programs, Northwest CA Area, 1017 G St., Eureka, CA 95501.

For more information on Peter Palmquist see:
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1984 National Stereoscopic Association in Manchester, NH Aug by Susan Pinsky 4

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The Photographers of Humbolt Bay County.
Collectors Obsession - Photos of Humbold
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Peter E Palmquist Redwood and Lumbering
Giants in the Earth - photos from Peter
With Natures Children - Emma B Freeman 1
Pioneer Photographers of the Far West 18
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