California State Archives Virtual Mini-Tours: The Stacks

California State Archives Building (2020) by California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

The California State Archives is a division of the California Secretary of State’s Office and was created by California’s first law in 1850. The State Archives collects records from all three branches of government, as well as some local government records and private donations. Our collection includes more than 350 million records in a variety of formats including paper, maps, photographs, audiovisual, artifacts, and electronic records, which are stored on six levels of climate-controlled, secured stacks at the March Fong Eu Secretary of State Building in downtown Sacramento.

The California State Archives Virtual Mini-Tour Series gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look into the State Archives’ Stacks and Preservation Lab. This tour will show you some of the most fascinating items held in our records storage facilities. Let’s go!

Archives Virtual Tour - Archives Stacks (2020-05) by California Secretary of State's OfficeCalifornia State Archives

Two views of the California State Archives' Fourth Floor Stacks (2014) by California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

To best preserve the records, all six floors of the State Archives’ stacks are temperature-controlled and kept at a brisk 68 degrees, except for the third floor, which is kept at 65 degrees. Four of the six stacks floors contain boxes of paper records such as bill files, court cases, records of state agencies and the Legislature, dating from 1850-present day. Paper documents are stored in acid-free cubic foot boxes and the State Archives holds about 250,000 cubic feet of records overall.

Two views of the California State Archives' Third Floor Stacks (2014) by California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

The third floor of the stacks contains records that are oversized or are in special formats. This floor includes some of the most visual records, including maps, blueprints, trademarks, bound volumes, as well as microfilm, audiovisual materials, slides, and photographs. Audiovisual records are stored in special vaults, which are maintained about ten degrees cooler than the rest of the stacks and contain records such as oral history interviews and Senate and Assembly Floor Sessions.

The State Archives’ high security vault also contains some of California’s oldest and most precious records, such as the original English and Spanish versions of the State Constitution, original state laws, Executive Orders, Robert F. Kennedy assassination records, and early California censuses. The vault also holds one of our oldest record collections, the Diseños – maps of boundaries to the individual land plots held by Mexican citizens at the close of the Mexican American War and used by the U.S. Board of Land Commissioners to verify land title – which date to around 1827 through 1846.

Artifacts and large items are stored in Artifact Storage on our first floor. You can learn more about this space through our virtual mini-tour to the Artifact Storage Area.

Take a look at the next few slides to learn more about the different types of records in the State Archives’ collections.

Constitution of the State of California (2020) by California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

The State Archives is home to California’s two State Constitutions. California's first constitution was ratified in 1849 and was published in both English and Spanish. The Constitution was amended only three times in thirty years – 1856, 1862, and 1871. On March 30, 1878, the California Legislature passed an Act for a Convention to frame a new Constitution for the State of California (Chapter 490, Statutes of 1877–78), which became California’s 1879 Constitution. You can view high resolution scans of California’s Constitutions, as well as the Working Papers of the California Constitutional Convention of 1878 and 1879, on our website.

Letter and Lithograph from Julia Milligan to Her Sister (1854) by California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

The California State Archives has records from early California statehood, consisting of Spanish and Mexican Land Grant maps, land deeds, and various other documents in the early years of California’s statehood. This letter is from Julia Milligan to her sister, written on November 24, 1854. Enclosed with the letter was a lithograph of the mining town in which she lived.

Payment for Great Seal design (1850-03-04) by California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

Legislative papers, categorized in our holdings by both the initials “LP” and the appropriate numerical designations, document the actions of the California State Legislature. The State Archives’ collection of Legislative Papers extends back to the State’s first legislative sessions, held in the mid-nineteenth century. Dating to March 4, 1850, LP 1:329 is one of the State Archives’ oldest LPs. The document records the claim of Charles White for one-thousand dollars, advanced to Caleb Lyons for furnishing the design and dye for the Great Seal of California.

Three Old Series Trademarks (1883/1887) by California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

The Trademark Registration Act of 1863 – the first trademark law in the nation – allowed businesses to register images and labels for any product with the Secretary of State (as only bottles were eligible to be registered under the first trademark statute of 1861) and made it unlawful for others, without consent, to use the same trademarked items to sell similar or counterfeit goods. You can search California’s 19th Century trademarks through our website.

Featured here are three Old Series Trademarks, registered with the Secretary of State in 1883 and 1887, respectively. Old Series Trademark No. 0967 was registered with the Secretary of State by Pacific Vinegar Works on March 16, 1883. According to the official papers, the trademark picture is described as featuring a “train, mountains, valley, etc.” Old Series Trademark No. 1412b, titled, “Self-Raising Breakfast Cake Meal,” was filed with the Secretary of State on January 18, 1887, at the request of the Del Monte Milling Company. Edwin T. Earl of the Earl Fruit Company filed Old Series Trademark No. 1418b in 1887. The hand-painted trademark features the unmistakable geography of Yosemite, with an overlay of a detailed waterfall. The trademark was used to advertise “Yosemite Brand California Raisins.”

Muster roll and ballots (1863) by California Secretary of State RecordsCalifornia State Archives

The California State Archives houses a collection of military records dating as far back to the American Civil War. The Civil War left its mark on many aspects of American life, including elections and voting within California. As the Civil War required California soldiers to fight on the battlefields stretching from Virginia to Arizona, Governor Leland Stanford urged the legislature to allow California’s new soldiers serving away from home to vote. By 1863, the Legislature enacted a new law that allowed for California soldiers to mail in ballots regardless of where they were stationed to the California Secretary of State. Today these election records can be found at the California State Archives. You can learn more about these ballots in our Soldiers' Ballots exhibit.

Pleasants v. North Beach and Mission Railroad Company 34 Cal. 586 (1868) by California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

The Archives holds over 27,000 cubic feet and over 1,400 bound volumes of historic records created by California’s Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal. Many famous and infamous characters from California’s past can be found in these court records, for example, heroes like Mary E. Pleasants. On Thursday, September 27, 1866, a black woman named Mary E. Pleasants tried to hail a streetcar in San Francisco. Refusing to let her board or even stop, the conduct reportedly said, “we don’t take colored people in the cars.” Less than one year after the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolishing slavery was adopted, one of California’s first civil rights pioneers began a legal odyssey that would eventually be heard before the Supreme Court of California. Pleasants sued the streetcar company for damages, and today the records of her case from the State Supreme Court, Pleasants v. North Beach and Mission Railroad Company (1868) 34 Cal. 586, can be found at the California State Archives.

Map of Lake Tahoe Wagon Road (1896) by Records of the California Secretary of State's Office, Maps and Plans Filed with the Secretary of StateCalifornia State Archives

The State Archives has hundreds of thousands of maps in its collection, ranging in size from several inches to over sixty-six feet long. This map of the Lake Tahoe Wagon Road in El Dorado County was composed of five different private toll roads: Wiley Toll Road, South Fork or Pearson Toll Road, Johnson Toll Road, Swan Toll Road, and Kingsbury & McDonald Toll Road. El Dorado County purchased the route in 1886, declaring it a public highway. The county subsequently deeded the route to the State of California on February 28, 1896. The Lake Tahoe Wagon Road would eventually develop into the state’s first highway.

Redwoods Postcard - Frederick A. Meyer Collection (2020) by California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

The photographic collections of the California State Archives constitute a rich and varied source of information about the history of California state government and of the state. While portions of the collections have been used extensively, most of it remains largely untapped. The Frederick A. Meyer Collection contains five cubic feet of slides, photographs, and negatives capturing California State Parks and State Parks projects from the early 1950s through the early 1980s. Meyer was a State Parks employee and appears to have taken the photographs on his numerous trips throughout the state to visit State Parks, beaches, reserves, and recreation areas, as well as sites that could be added to the State Parks and beaches system. Many of the slides depict the same locations showing the progress of a project or park over several years.

San Quentin Prison Mugbook, opened to a page featuring two women. (2020) by California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

This is a mug book from San Quentin Prison, dated to approximately 1891. The vertical columns show a progression of newly incarcerated individuals: first, as they arrived at the prison, next, without their hats; and finally, the prisoners were photographed with their hair cut and signs detailing their names, crimes, and date of arrest, among other information. Mug books and similar records are frequently used by genealogists or researchers looking into their family’s history.

Closeup of two women's mugshots from a San Quentin Mugbook. (2020) by California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

This particular mug book page features two women; on the left, May Marshall, 43, from San Francisco, and on the right, Fannie Page, 38, from Louisiana. San Quentin Prison housed female inmates until 1935.

Chipped Stone Bear (2020) by California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

In 1985, a Cypress College student named Richard Cerrito unearthed an artifact made from volcanic rock, at the Allen O. Kelly Archaeological Dig in San Diego County. The prehistoric artifact known as the “Chipped Stone Bear” is estimated to be between 7,000 and 8,000 years old. In 1991, Governor Pete Wilson signed into law Senate Bill 404, introduced by Senator Ralph Dills, declaring the 2 ½ inch long Chipped Stone Bear, as the official State Prehistoric Artifact.

The "Squirrel Posters" on a staging cart (2020) by California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

These posters, from the Rodent Control Division of the California Department of Agriculture, are an example of state agency records. They depict squirrels wearing spiked “enemy” helmets dating to 1918 during World War I. As California grew to be the food basket of the nation, the concern over squirrels increased. Although squirrels were initially cited as sources of sylvatic plague, by 1917 ground squirrels had become widely associated with crop decimation and potential food losses. Once the United States entered the Great War, the need to feed the troops became paramount. The department believed that ground squirrels posed a grave threat to crops and food supply and subsequently launched a campaign encouraging schoolchildren to further the war effort by killing squirrels. The Squirrel Posters are also an example of lamination, a very popular preservation technique in the 1960s, but one which no longer meets archival preservation standards because it is irreversible.

Two views of the California State Archives' Third Floor Stacks (2014) by California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

To learn more about the California State Archives, visit our other virtual mini-tours.

You can also view more highlights from the collection in our video, Gems of the California State Archives on the California SOS YouTube channel.

Credits: Story

California State Archives
Sacramento, CA

All records, photographs and videos featured are property of the California State Archives and the California Secretary of State's Office.

A special thank you to our videographer, Adam Christy, to our photographers, Thaddeus McCurry and Brian Guido, and to Archivist Beth Benham for curating the records and their corresponding histories for this virtual tour.

Text by Beth Benham, Jasmine Senegal, and Alese Ballard.
Photography by Thaddeus McCurry and Brian Guido.
Filmography and editing by Adam Christy.
Virtual tour by Alese Ballard (2020).

California State Archives
A Division of the California Secretary of State's Office
1020 O Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
Reference Telephone: (916) 653-2246
General Information: (916) 653-7715
Fax: (916) 653-7363

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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