MATHER, John A. (1829-1915)
Mather's Historical Oil Region Views of Western Pennsylvania [cover title]
Titusville, Pennsylvania: John. A. Mather, 1895. 3 parts in 3 volumes, oblong small folio. (10 x 13 1/4 inches). Letterpress titles to each part, 2 preliminary leaves of text in part one. 38 photographs, printing-out paper prints, each linen backed as issued, with Mather's caption in the negative, some with additional captions in manuscript.
Publisher's cloth, covers bordered in blind, upper covers lettered in gilt, floral patterned endpapers
Important photographic record of the early days of the U.S. Petroleum Industry: the only complete set known with all three parts.
The work was made and published by the pioneer photographer of the Pennsylvania oil fields, John A. Mather. The first oil well in the United States was drilled by E. L. Drake in Oil Creek, Pennsylvania, near Titusville, in 1859. On the 29th of August oil was struck. John A. Mather, a recent English immigrant and aspiring photographer, heard of Drake's discovery and the ensuing oil rush, and moved to Titusville in October 1860. He set up a gallery, built a floating photo studio and over the next forty years compiled an exhaustive photographic record of the growth of the oil industry. Mather's photographs rarely turn up in the marketplace. The photographs in the present work were printed in 1895 but most are from earlier negatives. Most photographs are identified and dated in the negative. Mather's photographs serve up a visual narrative of this transitional period, documenting the rapid growth of the region from 1864-1880s, when it emerged as the first site of substantial oil wealth in the U. S. Mr. Drake is shown along with his first oil well. Mather also depicts the early days of Titusville. The Oil Exchange Hotel is set amidst rolling hills marked with numerous erector-set-like vertical structures. Laborers of all ages, including child "oil dippers," are chronicled along with the burly men who drilled and operated the giant rigs. Sets of Mather's Views with all three parts is extraordinary. Swanson was only aware of part 1; Giddens, who reproduces hundreds of Mather photographs in his work from the original negatives, makes no mention of the publication at all. OCLC records but 4 examples of individual parts and no complete sets such as the present. "Thanks to John A. Mather, probably no industry has as fine or as extensive a pictorial record of its beginnings as the petroleum industry" (Giddens).
Giddens, Paul H., Early Days of Oil: A Pictorial History of the Beginnings of the Industry in Pennsylvania (Princeton: 1948); Swanson, A Century of Oil and Gas Books (New York: 1960), p. 155.