While researching another question concerning the cemetery at Mission Dolores, I came across an image which gives a date of 1856, in Wikipedia.

enter image description here

The image shows the mission in a state of disrepair, with plaster coming off the sides. I thought this might help me build a timeline of events at this mission.

But then I came across another image at The Portal to Texas History: enter image description here This images caption states Mission Dolores about 1833 A few discrepancies make me believe this is an artist's rendering for a post card, and the date is just wrong.

Then I find a site with numerous images of the Dolores Mission, OpenSFHistory.org , and see this image: enter image description here Note the handwritten caption on the photo saying Mission Dolores 1870. So much for simplifying a timeline of this structure.

Eventually, focusing on the year 1856, which seems most plausible to me, I come across another image (cited as OpenSFHistory / wnp71.0172.jpg) which seems to give the same 1856 date (in a printed caption this time) enter image description here Besides apparently confirming the 1856 date, this page is providing source information:

Carleton Watkins (Martin Behrman Negative Collection / Courtesy of the Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives)

Thinking my troubles done, I include the photographers name (Carelton Watkins) in my searches, and find a site dedicated to photographs by the photographer The Photographs of Carleton Watkins, and it contains what must be the original, which shows much more sky and background than any of the others: enter image description here But when I think the desired date will be apparent here, I find the following in the information below the image (emphasis mine):

  • Date Photographed: 1878-1883
  • Catalog: Carleton Watkins: The Complete Mammoth Photographs, cat. no. 749
  • Notes: CMP notes: Likely a wet-plate copy of an earlier image (daguerreotype, ambrotype, or salt print). If so, this image was taken well before 1860 (see Palmquist, From Babies to Landscapes, 1856-1858 in Daguerreian Annual (1991): pp. 227-246)

Lastly, the photography site shows a connection to J Paul Getty Museum.(This seems to be the exact image as the above, so I won't repeat it here), The information below the image, is as follows (emphasis mine):

Date: negative before 1861; print possibly 1880s

So, that is my research, finding dates for (mostly) the same image claiming 1833, 1856, 1870, 1856 again, 1878-1883 or 'well before 1860', and finally 'before 1861'.

The Wikipedia page for the photographer indicates he was in San Francisco after 1851, but may not have started his photography business until 1858. Other research on this topic indicate that clapboard siding appeared on this church 'in the 1850s', so dates later then that are probably incorrect (verifying the exact date when this was installed may help narrow the date of the photo down). The 1833 post card has obvious differences, and the lack of photographic equipment in the 1830s means we can probably discount that date as well.

So what is the correct, exact date (year is adequate)? What year was the above image of the Mission San Francisco de Asís from?

  • 11
    We can definitively rule out the 1833 date: photographic techniques prior to 1839 and the daguerreotype required multi-hour or multi-day exposures. The presence of a person and the clarity of the shadows both exclude long-exposure techniques.
    – Mark
    Commented Jun 27, 2019 at 2:37
  • 1
    Yes, one of the other things about the 1833 version is the artist redesigned the visible monument in the cemetery, which is visible in many later images. One of the main points of this question is to show you have to be careful what sources you use, even something as apparently simple as a photo can be misleading.
    – justCal
    Commented Jun 27, 2019 at 17:18

1 Answer 1


Congratulations on your first question, justCal!

The cropped version of the Mission Dolores photograph was published in George Robinson Fardon's famous 1856 album. I have the cheap Dover edition. As you found, a larger version also appears in the works of Carleton Watkins. Both men have been credited with this image, but both reprinted the work of another, unknown, photographer.

Fardon's album

Its origins are discussed in the 1999 critical edition and catalogue raisonné of Fardon's album (pp. 24-26, 136). Based on the subsequent conversion of the priest's quarters into a saloon, and the fact that in 1854 Fardon preferred to copy it rather than make his own work, the photo's date is suggested as 1850 or 1851. It was reportedly taken by "an English tourist who stopped in San Francisco during his return trip from the Orient." The photochemical process he used is not known.

  • 1
    Thanks, this helps make sense of some of the chaos. Placing the image early in the 1850s at least gives a place to target for when the clapboard siding appears, which might help solve your question on the cemetery (major improvements might be recorded somewhere I have yet to find). Thanks again for the answer, I'll give it a couple of days to get votes before accepting.
    – justCal
    Commented Jun 27, 2019 at 17:15

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.