“true with his rifle, ready with his pen” — California Diamond Jubilee Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin

Today, the California Diamond Jubilee Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers the date of the first San Francisco newspaper, the California Star, published on January 9, 1847.

Though, the Californian, another newspaper in Monterey, began before the new California Star.

Initially, the newspapers competed, however within a short time they combined their resources into one newspaper.

In the Inland Printer, the Leading Trade Journal of the World in Printing and Allied Industries, of June 1914, this article provided insight into the early new printing in California:


In July, 1846, an American squadron took possession of Monterey.

Walter Colton, chaplain of the frigate Congress, was appointed alcaIde of Monterey and vicinity. He has printed his diary from which we resume the history of the first Californian printing-plant:

“August 15, 1846. To-day the first newspaper ever published in California made its appearance. The honor, if such it be, of writing its Prospectus, fell to me. It is to be issued on every Saturday, and is published by Semple and Colton.

“Little did I think when relinquishing the editorship of the North American in Philadelphia, that my next feat in this line would be here in California.

“My partner is an emigrant from Kentucky, who stands six feet eight in his stockings. He is in a buckskin dress, a foxskin cap; is true with his rifle, ready with his pen, and quick at the type-case.

“He created the materials of our office out of the chaos of a small concern, which had been used by a Roman Catholic monk in printing a few sectarian tracts.

“The press was old enough to be preserved as a curiosity; the mice had burrowed in the balls. There were no rules, no leads, and the types were rusty and all in pi.

“It was only by scouring that the letters could be made to show their faces. A sheet or two of tin were procured, and these, with a jackknife, were cut into rules and leads.

“Luckily, we found, with the press, the greater part of a keg of ink; and now came the main scratch for paper.

“None could be found, except what is used to envelop the tobacco of the cigar smoked here by the natives.

“A coaster had a small supply of this on board, which we procured. It is in sheets a little larger than the common-sized foolscap.

“And this is the size of our first paper, which we have christened The Californian.

“Though small in dimensions, our first number is as full of news as a black-walnut is of meat.

“We have received by couriers. during the week, intelligence from all the important military posts through the territory. Very little of this has transpired. It reaches the public for the first time through our sheet.

“We have, also, the declaration of war between the United States and Mexico, with an abstract of the debate in the Senate.

“A crowd was waiting when the first sheet was thrown from the press. It produced quite a little sensation.

“Never was a bank run upon harder; not, however, by people with paper to get specie, but exactly the reverse.

“One-half the paper is in English, the other in Spanish. The subscription for a year is five dollars. The price of a single sheet is twelve and a half cents: and is considered cheap at that.”

The first American to actually print in California was Joseph Dockrill, printer-seaman on the U. S. S. Congress, who was drafted ashore at Colton’s request.

Robert Semple, who had a brother who was congressman from Illinois, reached California by the overland route. He was very tall, and is said to have arrived from the East at Sutter’s Mills on a small mule, with the spurs strapped to the calves of his legs.

Taking account of difficulties, Semple and Dockrill did good typographic work. In an early issue the following paragraph discloses the absence of a trained typographer in more ways than one:

“Our Alphabet.— Our type is a spanish font, picked up here in a cloister, and has no W’s in it, as there is none in the spanish alphabet. I have sent to the Sandwich Islands for the letter, in the meantime we must use two V’s. Our paper at present is that used for wrapping cigars: in due time we will have something better, our object is to establise a press in California, and this we shall in all probability be able to accomplish. The absence of my partner for the Iast three months, and my buties as Alcaldd here have deprived our little papers of some of those attentions which I hope it will hereafter receive—WALTER COLTON.”

Semple was absent laying out the town of Benicia, of which he was an original proprietor. He was active in many ways in public matters and represented Benicia in the convention of September and October, 1849, which formulated and adopted the Constitution, ratified by Congress in 1850, which added California to the Union.

Sometimes the letters v ran out, and we find the u pressed into service, as “The Neuu Ministry,” “Key UUest,” but ordinarily there were enough, and so “VVandering VVillie’s” communication is respectfully declined without resort to the double U.

In April, 1847, Robert Semple became sole proprietor of The Californian. In May he shipped the plant to San Francisco, the second newspaper there.

Semple sold his plant and paper, and on November 18, 1848, it was merged with the California Star, under the name of Star and California, and in January, 1849, the ownership changing, the paper appeared as The Alto California, name henceforth to be justly famous, for it became a great newspaper.

From its establishment proceeded many men who started newspapers throughout the State, so that it became known as “ the mother of newspapers.”

San Francisco’s first newspaper, the California Star, was planned in New York in December, 1845. Some of the matter which appeared in its earlier issues was actually set up in New York.

The venture belonged to a party of Mormons who sailed from New York in the Brooklyn in February, 1846, arriving in July.

Samuel Brannan was the printer in charge, and E. P. Jones was the editor. Published weekly, its size was 13 by 18 inches, three columns to the page; the yearly subscription was $6, and a square of ten nonpariel lines of advertising cost $3.

This was before the discovery of gold. The principal income was derived from job-printing.

Its expressions were vigorous.

Down in Monterey Colton and Semple’s Californian had printed a courteous complimentary notice of the Star, and in the next issue the editor of the Star, who had arrived only a few weeks before and knew nobody, responds:

“We have received two late numbers of the Californian, a dim, dirty little paper, printed at Monterey, on the worn-out material of one of the old California war presses. It is published and edited by Walter Colton and Robert Semple, the one a lying sychophant and the other an overgrown lickspittle,” etc.

The belligerent Jones and the Mormon influence soon vanished, and the paper fell into the hands of the Gentiles.


The California Diamond Jubilee Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an image of an early printing press.

California Diamond Jubilee Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin