The New California Sugar Refinery, San Francisco.

Cartographer(s): Arthur F. Mathews, Britton & Rey
Date: 1881
Place: San Francisco
Dimensions: See condition notes.
Condition Rating: VG

Out of stock

SKU: NL-00870 Categories: ,

The New California Sugar Refinery: an emblem of late 19th century industrial San Francisco.


It is the vibrance of the color and superior artistic quality of this chromolithograph that first catches the eye. Prominent San Francisco artist Arthur F. Matthews envisioned and designed the rich scene, which was then brought to life by the city’s pre-eminent engravers of the time, Britton & Rey.

The California Sugar Refinery served as a key node in the commercial strategy of entrepreneur and industrialist Claus Spreckels. Like another of San Francisco’s most famous 19th century residents, Adolph Sutro, Spreckels was born in Germany and arrived in San Francisco in the 1850s. The Gold Rush was largely over, but the tremendous wealth it generated, along with San Francisco’s growing prominence as a maritime city, created myriad opportunities to amass new fortunes.

Spreckels entered the sugar business in the 1860s, but it was the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875, a free-trade agreement between the United States and the Kingdom of Hawaii, which facilitated his rapid ascent. Spreckels took advantage of the treaty to form partnerships, gain concessions, and dominate supply. In doing so, he became a powerful figure in Hawaiian politics and its economy. He built the Spreckelsville Plantation, among the largest sugar estates in the world. This sugar was shipped by the Oceanic Steamship Company, also controlled by Spreckels, to his refinery in San Francisco, the subject of our view. And finally, Spreckels was also a railroad executive, and the steam engine depicted at the right side of our view shows how the refinery connected to the Southern Pacific Railroad to distribute his sugar beyond San Francisco.

The view shows the impressive extent of the refinery operation, with laborers at work pushing wheelbarrows, loading barrels on to horse-drawn carts, and supervising the unloading of sugar directly from the company docks. The main section illustrates the large and stately building, with the Bay in the background. An inset at upper right display the refinery from the Bay itself, including an interesting depiction of the “sugar elevator” used to transfer sugar from the ships to the main building. An insert at the upper left, cleverly given depth as if on a piece of paper, features an excellent black and white portrait of Spreckels himself.

Overall, a rare and fascinating work of San Franciscana.


Arthur F. Mathews

Arthur F. Mathews (October 1, 1860 – February 19, 1945) was an American Tonalist painter who was one of the founders of the American Arts and Crafts Movement. Trained as an architect and artist, he and his wife Lucia Kleinhans Mathews had a significant effect on the evolution of Californian art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Mathews was a master of many media: oil painting, watercolor, pastel, gouache and fresco. He died at his home in San Francisco in 1945.

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

23 x 16.5 inches on sheet size 25 x 19.5 inches.

Centerfold as issued, professionally mounted on linen, minimizing folds with a couple of filled tiny chips; 1.5 by 1 inch area of discoloration at upper centerfold.


Bancroft Library Honeyman (Robert B., Jr.) - Collection of Early Californian and Western American Pictorial Material

Adler, Jacob. "Water Rights and Cabinet Shuffles: How Claus Spreckels' Hawaiian Career Began." The Business History Review 34, no. 1 (1960): 50-63. Accessed November 20, 2020.