The CHS Collection comprises a diverse body of materials documenting the history of California, including:
- 50,000 volumes of books and pamphlets;
- 4,000 manuscript collections;
- 500,000 photographs;
- Printed ephemera, periodicals, posters, broadsides, maps, and newspapers;
- The Kemble Collection on Western Printing and Publishing;
- 5,000 works of art, including paintings, drawings, and lithographs; and
- Artifacts and costumes.
Eleven thematic strengths distinguish the CHS Collection across formats.
Published narratives of exploration by Europeans describing habitats, settlement, and contact with indigenous peoples; letters, diaries, logbooks, and official records documenting life in Mexican California; and art works of early fort, presidio, and mission scenes.
Diaries, journals, and letters; overland guides, books, pamphlets, and pictorial lettersheets; daguerreotypes of miners; and numerous drawings, watercolors, and prints depicting mining life and its impact on California's natural and social landscape.
Original overland and sea diaries, journals, logbooks, letters, family papers, and business records; books, pamphlets, and ephemera; and photographs documenting the mid-nineteenth century population boom, the growth of cities, and continued migration to California.
Landscape paintings, printed views, and photographs by important American artists and photographers, including Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill, Mary Park Seavy Benton, Samuel Marsden Brookes, Nellie Hopps, William Keith, Arthur Frank Mathews, Ludmilla Pilat Welch, Virgil Williams, Eadweard Muybridge, and Carleton Watkins.
Materials documenting water use, agriculture, conservation, and the state's changing landscape, including the California Tomorrow records; the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) records for California and the Western Region; maps; and business records and photographs of logging and mining activities, including J. A. Todd photographs of N. Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company.
Significant collections of business records, photographs, and commercial catalogs representing individuals and companies in the banking, lumber, mining, trade, shipping, wine, and other industries; records of labor unions; oral histories of labor activists and radicals; and books, pamphlets, and ephemera representing the rise of tourism and promotion of the state.
Major holdings of records and other materials created by or documenting clubs, community organizations, advocacy groups, and utopian societies and other intentional communities, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California; the San Francisco and California branches of the League of Women Voters; and Peoples Temple.
Significant collections of photographs, including works by Arnold Genthe and Minor White; works by and about California writers and artists like Gertrude Atherton, Ina Coolbrith, Bret Harte, and Jack London; more than 5,000 works of art, including oil and watercolor paintings, drawings, lithographs, and decorative arts from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; and the Kemble Collections on Western Printing and Publishing.
Manuscript collections, scrapbooks, photographs, printed material, and other media documenting the 1906 earthquake and fire; San Francisco-based fairs and exhibitions, theater and music culture; businesses and civic institutions; neighborhoods, streets, and buildings; and notable San Franciscans.
Manuscripts, journals, letters, account books, and documents relating to statehood and its development from 1845 to 1847; personal papers of politicians, including James Rolph, Jr., Milton S. Latham, George C. Perkins, Hiram Johnson, William M. Gwin, John Franklin Miller, John W. Dwinelle, William Chalmers Hendricks, Timothy Phelps, and Joseph R. Knowland; and local property, court, vital statistics, taxes, and voting records.
Nearly 23,000 photographs from the Title Insurance and Trust Company (TICOR) and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce (LAACC), along with the records of LAACC, managed for CHS by the Regional History Center at the University of Southern California, documenting the development and promotion of the Los Angeles region.