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Mitchell Biography

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by Lewis Baer (SFBAPCC)

Edward H. Mitchell was one of the earliest and most prolific postcard publishers in the United States and he was a San Franciscan. Cards bearing his name as publisher have been used, collected and studied since the end of the nineteenth century – the dawn of the Golden Age of Postcards. Several extensive checklists running to over three thousand entries have been compiled and updated. Mitchell published very early cards – colored vignettes – that were printed in Germany. He was publishing undivided back cards from a Post street address before the earthquake and fire of 1906 destroyed his printing operation and much of San Francisco. He continued to work out of his home until he built a plant and warehouse on Army Street. From there he published thousands of divided back cards including many views of San Francisco and the West, series on the Philippines and the Hawaiian Islands, high quality real photo views, comics, artistic designs and a series of early exaggerations of California fruits and vegetables. He printed cards for himself and other publishers, most notably to promote the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition. Collectors and researchers of all Mitchell cards cannot help but feel a personal link with the publisher because he identifies himself on each of them as “Edward H. Mitchell”– not “... Company,” not “... Inc.” just Edward H. Mitchell.”

The link to Mr. Mitchell as a person, is however, fragile. While his business has been analyzed and recorded extensively we know little about the man himself. In the 1980s Sam Stark wrote a series of articles for the Golden Gate Post Card Club bulletin on Edward H. Mitchell, His Life and Times that gave much information on his publishing history and contemporaries and a few vital statistics on Mr. Mitchell. Born: San Francisco, April 27, 1867; graduated Lincoln Grammar School 1883; married Idelle Linehan, also a San Francisco native, in 1891; and died October 24, 1932. Mr. Stark, who had become acquainted with the youngest of Mitchell’s children, Allen, put a bit more flesh on these bones, but Edward H. Mitchell was still little more than a name, a few dates and a blurred photocopy of a rotogravure picture.

Hoping to learn more about the most prominent of San Francisco postcard publishers I called on one of our club members at his Oakland home. Family files and photos were brought out, and we talked nonstop for over two hours....

Stafford Buckley, Edward H. Mitchell’s grandson, has been collecting Mitchell cards since the 1960s with an eye to getting to know more about his grandfather and, now, to building a collection that will record the importance of Mitchell’s role in creating a pictorial history of San Francisco, the Western U.S. and Pacific territories. Although Stafford did not know his grandfather he does have family memories that bring flashes of life to the man. He is also an archivist and genealogical researcher, and he has added a few details of which even E. H. Mitchell may have been unaware.

There was a letter to the editor of the Chronicle in 1961, Stafford recalls, asking for information about Edward H. Mitchell for an entry in an encyclopedia on postcards. Stafford’s mother, Mitchell’s youngest daughter, was an insomaniac and a voracious reader and grew excited when she read it late one night and called the fellow, Edward Lindsay. “I don’t think before that I ever knew about his postcard interests,” Stafford said. “Edward H. Mitchell died sixteen years before I was born – before my parents were married, and my parents never spoke much about their childhood family life although my mother was clearly very fond of her father. Soon after that Mr. Lindsay came over to our house, and he talked with my mother. Then, at Christmas, he sent a Mitchell poinsettia card as a greeting.”

Marion Mitchell Buckley, Stafford’s mother, had some cards she had collected on her European grand tour with her mother, but he doesn’t think that she had many – if any – E. H. Mitchell cards. When he was still a teenager Stafford went to a Golden Gate Post Card Club sale out near the beach where he bought a huge panorama of the city and two oversize cards of the Tower of Jewels. When his mother saw the cards she recalled that when she was a child –she would have been five years old at the time – she helped her two older sisters glue glitter and jewels on cards which her father had brought home. Gertrude would have been about twenty in 1915, and the sister Stafford knew as “Auntie Bernice” would have been thirteen, “prime age for a gluer.”

Edward H. Mitchell did have real estate interests, notably the Edward and Henry hotels constructed to house the crowds visiting the PPIE, but years before that he had built three houses on Clay Street. After the earthquake and fire destroyed the Mitchell offices at 225 Post Street he used his 3857 Clay Street home address for business as can be seen on his postcards of the era. “On Clay Street the family lived in the middle house,” Stafford explained, “and the other two were rented to tenants. On the left was the Dohrman family of Nathan Dohrman Company. On the right was Chief of Police Cook. When my mother was little there was a roof-top burglar terrorizing Presidio Heights, and one evening when my mother’s family came home they saw an arm and a leg and a bowler hat sticking out from under a bed. The family summoned the police chief who came over with a pistol and chased the burglar away. The Chief’s mother-in-law lived next door, too, and was taken to the hospital one day, apparently dying. Thinking she would need them no longer the maid gave away all of her clothes! The woman recovered unexpectedly and lived for years always wondering aloud, ‘Where is my green hat? Where is my...?’

“My grandfather retired from business in 1928. He had given up postcard production in about 1923 when his oil company became his primary business interest. The family moved out of the house on Clay Street and went to Palo Alto–509 Hale Street at University. There is an ongoing series of articles in the Chronicle on architects, and one was noted for building homes with chimneys – because they looked so nice – but no fireplaces inside. The designer of my grandparents’ home used the same technique because my aunt told me that the house did have a chimney but no fireplace. My grandfather became ill in the summer about two years after they moved, and he died that fall. He awoke in the night, my mother said, and the doctor was called, but he was dead in the morning. ‘Heart attack’ is what the death certificate says. The funeral service was at St. Edward the Confessor on California Street, and he is buried in the Mitchell plot at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma.”

Stafford has been chasing his family history for years and talked about his grandfather with Allen Mitchell, EHM’s son. Allen spoke of fishing with his father. Twenty when his dad died, Allen had left Lowell for Menlo and was on his way to Stanford. One of Mitchell’s careers was as a rancher and he had a place in Ben Lomond. The family spent a lot of time there and was at the ranch on April 18, 1906, a date memorialized in Mitchell lore because of the “girl” – a maid – at the San Francisco house “who put the family silver in a baby buggy and wheeled it into the Presidio.” Allen also told of the apples on the ranch which the family harvested and brought up to the city on the train where they sold them. Frank Capp, the ranch foreman, may have been a postcard artist from the Mitchell plant. Allen remembered that they would take the train to Felton, transfer to the train to Brookdale after calling ahead for Mr. Capp to meet them there and take them to the ranch. “They must have sold the ranch by the time they moved to Palo Alto as they then had a vacation home in Ben Lomond.

“Uncle Allen said that when my grandfather ceased business he let his printer go. The backlog of three-and-a-half million cards was sold in Los Angeles for $500. I remember hearing that the plates had been stored at the Shell Building.

“John Henry Mitchell, Edward H. Mitchell’s father, came to California from Illinois where his father was a Methodist minister. John Henry had three families. A son from the first family, John Samuel Mitchell, EHM’S half-brother, was manager of the Clift and Fairmont hotels and ‘special agent’ for the St. Francis. John Samuel had two sons and a daughter, Ruth Comfort Mitchell, an author of some note who wrote numerous books including a series on historic San Francisco. She was Gertrude Athertonish and spoke at women’s groups. John Henry then began a new family with Mary Hodnett from County Cork, Ireland, my great-grandmother. Soon after their only child, Edward H., was born John left mother and son behind and went off to further his lineage elsewhere. My grandfather grew up with his mother at 16 Ford Street where she lived for the rest of her life. Edward H. supported her from a young age, and while he was at school he worked for A. L. Bancroft on Market Street. When John Samuel died his obituary noted that his [and EHM’S] father had the ‘first string of hotels in California’ – in the Gold Country in 1860.”

Stafford has some tangible keepsakes of his grandfather. There are the two oversize Tower of Jewel cards, with glitter and tiny multicolored jewels possibly glued on by his mother or aunts, and there are a number of photos. The one seen here dates from around 1913 –the height of his postcard publishing career – and shows the family: Edward H., holding baby Allen who is sitting on his long legs; Mrs. Mitchell is beside her husband, and on the other side is Marion, Stafford’s mother; behind are Gertrude, left, and Bernice, with the large bow in her hair. On the wall behind the group, only faintly seen in the photograph and not visible here, is a plain air painting by Henry Gustavson of a California hillside, perhaps at the ranch. It now hangs in Stafford’s dining room.

Edward H, Mitchell was a tall man, six feet-three. Stafford is six feet-four. That is only one of the touchstones they share. Through family memories and his postcard and genealogical research Stafford has grown closer to the grandfather he never knew. His idea is to build a permanent postcard collection, “the best I can. It’s something I want to do for my grandfather – create a record that the public can see and enjoy.”

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