1906 Britton & Rey’s Map of Greater San Francisco Showing Burned District

Cartographer(s): Britton & Rey
Date: 1906
Place: San Francisco
Dimensions: 63.5 x 50.8 cm (25 x 20 in)
Condition Rating: VG

Out of stock

SKU: NL-00703 Category: Tag:

Unrecorded map of the destruction in San Francisco, published soon after the earthquake and fire.


Unrecorded San Francisco map of the Burnt District, showing the area affected by the 1906 earthquake and fire.

The map illustrates the areas burned during the fire in gold.

The map covers promote the lithographic work of “The Pioneer Lithographers of Greater San Francisco.” Indeed, after over 50 years in business, the present work is toward the tail end of the firm’s existence.

1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire

The San Francisco Earthquake struck Northern California at 5:12 a.m. on Wednesday, April 18, 1906, with an estimated magnitude of 7.9. Devastating fires soon broke out in the city and lasted for days. As many as 3000 people died, more than half the population was rendered homeless, and four square miles of the city were laid waste. The quake and subsequent fires are together remembered as one of the worst natural disasters in American history.

Just as today, the American public was fascinated by mayhem, and the presses churned out a flood of imagery depicting the destruction of San Francisco. Offered here is a hitherto-unrecorded example of the genre, being a pocket map of the city with the enormous “burned district” highlighted in orange. If anything, the map understates the extent of the destruction: the burnt district was among the city’s most densely populated, while much of the area shown had been laid out for development but was at most lightly inhabited.

The map is tipped into printed card stock covers promoting the lithographic work of Britton & Rey, “The Pioneer Lithographers of Greater San Francisco,” who, “in renewing our facilities on a larger scale after the Fire… have been guided by an experience of over Fifty years in serving patrons who place quality above all other considerations.” Indeed, after over more than five decades in business, by 1906 the firm was nearing the end of its long and successful run.


The map is unrecorded. We find no other examples, though we note another 1906 map by Britton & Rey entitled Map of greater San Francisco, showing contour lines and burned district (OCLC lists a sole example, held by Santa Clara University.) Despite the apparent similarities, our map has no features that could be construed as contour lines. The map was reissued, with a somewhat different title, in the Report of the State Earthquake Investigation Commission (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institution, 1908).


Britton & Rey

Britton & Rey (1852 – 1906) was a lithographic printing firm based in San Francisco and founded by Joseph Britton and Jacques Joseph Rey in 1852. Especially during the second half of the 19th century, Britton and Rey became the leading lithography firm in San Francisco, and probably California. Among their many publications were birds-eye-views of Californian cities, depictions of the exquisite landscapes, stock certificates, and no least maps. While Rey was the primary artist, Britton worked not only as the main lithographer but was essentially also the man running the business. In addition to their own material, the firm reproduced the works of other American artists like Thomas Almond Ayres (1816 – 1858), George Holbrook Baker (1824 – 1906), Charles Christian Nahl (1818 – 1878), and Frederick August Wenderoth (1819 – 1884). Following Rey’s death in 1892 Britton passed the form on to Rey’s son, Valentine J. A. Rey, who ran it until the great earthquake and fire of 1906 destroyed most of the company’s assets.

Joseph Britton (1825 – July 18, 1901) was a lithographer and the co-founder of the prominent San Francisco lithography studio Britton and Rey. He was also a civic leader in San Francisco, serving on the Board of Supervisors and helping to draft a new city charter. In 1852, he became active in lithography and publishing, first under the name ‘Pollard and Britton,’ and then ‘Britton and Rey,’ a printing company founded with his friend and eventual brother-in-law Jacques Joseph Rey. Britton and Rey became the premier lithographic and engraving studio of the Gold Rush era, producing letter sheets, maps, and artistic prints.

Jacques Joseph Rey (1820 – 1892) was a French engraver and lithographer born in the Alsatian town of Bouxwiller. At the age of about 30, he emigrated to America, eventually settling in California. Here, he soon entered into a partnership with local entrepreneur and civic leader Joseph Britton. Three years later, Rey also married Britton’s sister, allowing his business partner and brother-in-law Britton to live in their house with them. Rey and Britton were not only an important part of the San Francisco printing and publishing scene but also owned a plumbing and gas-fitting firm. In the early years, both men would sometimes partner up with others on specific projects, but by the late 1860s, their partnership was more or less exclusive.

Condition Description

Minor soiling at folds.