John Vonderlin: The Yellowed Pages

Story by John Vonderlin

Email John: [email protected]

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Hi June,
I’ve been researching that book that I sent you all the ads from. It is on and is entitled, “Handbook and Directory of Santa Clara, San Benito, Santa Cruz, Monterey, and San Mateo Counties.” It was produced by Luther L. Paulson in 1875, part of series covering all of the Pacific coast, of which he apparently produced only four, covering most of the coastal or near-counties of California. The other three were produced in 1874 and 1876; one for Southern California, one for the northern counties of the Bay Area, and one for Alameda County.
They are essentially  “Yellow Page” style books, that businesses could buy a full page advertisement in for $20, or a half page for $15, or a quarter page for $10. But, they were much more too. They all included a list of the post offices of the Pacific Coast. Also, each included what was purported to be a complete listing of every permanent resident of the respective counties they covered, with those people’s occupation and postal address.
For the county of San Mateo there are more then 40 pages, with about 65 people a page, over 2,500 people. Farmer, dairyman, laborer, trader, wagonmaker, barber, clerk, blacksmith, teamster, lumberman, machinist, engineer; they’re all represented. It’s a comprehensive look at who was where, and doing what, in the still raw county of San Mateo in 1875.
Even more fascinating are the local ads. Ads for stagelines, liveries, a millinery, druggist and chemist, attorneys, a butcher, saloons, hotels, a flouring mill, general merchandisers, saddle maker, physician and surgeon, and of course, undertakers are all proudly displayed. Many of these ads have high quality drawings or quite fancy layouts.
There are also short descriptions of several of the cities in San Mateo County, and there used to be maps of the covered counties in the book, but they, along with a few other pages, seem to be missing.
These four volumes seem to be the height of the publisher, Luther L. Lauson’s, career. I can find no mention of him, other then related to these books, anywhere else. The printing company he used, “Francis and Valentine Steam Press” was well known, and apparently the largest printer on the Pacific coast for many years. They specialized in doing jobs for those lacking their own presses, and have a full page ad for themselves in the book.
Unfortunately, on Christmas Day, 1893, a fire broke out in the block where their plant was located, as well most of the other printing companies and newspapers located in San Francisco at that time, and their many presses were destroyed. They never fully recovered, and another fire in the same building, five years later, forced them into bankruptcy. While Mr. Paulson’s endeavors may not have been a great financial success, they leave us with a fascinating view of the financial vibrancy of the early days of San Mateo County. Enjoy.
I’ve attached some drawings from the “Morning Call” and the “Call,” and part of the article about the fire, as the papers were not damaged severely by the fire, and were able to keep publishing.