About the Library


In 1922, the California Historical Society was reorganized and revived by a small group of distinguished San Franciscans, among them two of the most important California bibliophiles of their day, C. Templeton Crocker and Henry R. Wagner. To support the Society's fledging library, Crocker deposited his superb private collection of rare books, manuscripts, maps, newspapers, and periodicals in rooms adjacent to CHS headquarters. Formally acquired by the Society in 1940, the Crocker Collection—with its emphasis on voyages of discovery, Western overland travel, California's transition from a Mexican province to statehood, and the Gold Rush—remains at the heart of the CHS library collection today.

From 1923 through the 1960s, CHS consistently built on the strengths of the Crocker gift through purchases and donations from major Californian collectors and bookmen. In addition to manuscripts and printed materials, the library assiduously collected photographic works, beginning with the 1928 acquisition of forty-seven Carleton E. Watkins mammoth plate photographs of John C. Fremont's Mariposa Estate. The CHS library would soon be home to thousands of photographic images, providing stunning visual documentation of the state and its people from the 1850s to the present.

In 1964, former Society president, printing historian, and collector George L. Harding founded the Kemble Collection on Western Printing and Publishing, named in honor of pioneer California printer and publisher Edward Cleveland Kemble. Dedicated to the history of printing and publishing in the West, this peerless collection began with three major gifts—Harding's printing and publishing library, William E. Loy's typographical library, and the business archives of San Francisco printing firm Taylor & Taylor—and has since grown in size and scope.

Since the 1960s, CHS has continued the collecting legacy that began with the Crocker gift. At the same time, the library has been enriched by major acquisitions that highlight the state's historic diversity and document complex contemporary subjects. In 1996, the CHS library moved from Pacific Heights to its current home at 678 Mission Street, and was renamed for former Board of Trustees president North Baker in honor of his generous bequest. Here, students, researchers, and lovers of books and history continue to explore the library's rich holdings of Californiana, bringing the dream of Crocker and his associates to life in the present day.


The California Historical Society Collection continues to grow through the generous support of our donors who give funds to assist with the purchase of new acquisitions, remember CHS through planned giving in their estates, or offer historically significant materials for the collection. Gifts large and small make it possible for CHS to collect, preserve, document, and make accessible to the public the state's continuing heritage.

All items submitted for donation to the California Historical Society undergo a review process before being accepted into the collection. We check to see if the items offered fit within the scope of our collecting plan and determine if we have the resources to adequately care for, catalog, and make them available for research and exhibition. Since we do not have collection staff available for unscheduled or walk-in evaluations of potential donations, we cannot accept responsibility for materials without prior consultation.

Please email acquisitions@calhist.org and describe the items you wish to donate. If the materials are appropriate for the collection, we will contact you within 30 days of receiving your offer. Although we cannot respond to all offers, we are indebted to all of CHS' friends, who encourage, support, and make possible the Society's continuing efforts to document the history of California.

678 Mission Street
San Francisco
CA 94105
415.357.1848 voice
415.357.1850 fax
Gallery + Store
11:00am to 8:00pm
Wednesday – Sunday
11:00am to 5:00pm
Wednesday – Friday
12:00pm to 5:00pm
Monday – Friday
9:00am to 5:00pm