Extremely Rare and Early Photograph

Signed by Ambrose Bierce

Item: 20797
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BIERCE, AMBROSE. (1842-1914?). American Civil War officer, journalist, satirist (The Devil’s Dictionary) and short-story writer (“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”). SP. (“A.G. Bierce”). 1p. 3¼” x 5”. (1870, San Francisco). An extremely rare and early sepia head-and-shoulders photograph of Bierce taken by Bradley & Rulofson, one of San Francisco’s leading portrait studios.

Bierce’s macabre stories reflect the adventure and mystery of his turbulent life. A Civil War veteran, Bierce settled in San Francisco, where his satirical and scathing observations soon appeared in several newspapers, including William Randolph Hearst’s influential San Francisco Examiner, where he became one of the leading journalists of his time. Stints in London and Washington further enhanced his reputation as a writer of great precision and wit.

By 1909, Bierce, who had resigned from Hearst’s employ the previous year, was back in Washington, where he edited his Collected Works (1909-1912). Though he toyed with the idea of returning to California, “It would have been difficult… to detach himself from Washington and particularly from the bar of the Army and Navy Club,” where out-of-town friends “always looked in first and usually found him holding forth in the bar,” (Ambrose Bierce: A Biography, O’Connor).

Nevertheless, the following April, Bierce set off for California via the Panama Canal. By October 1913 he was in Mexico, claiming to be in search of the notorious Francisco “Pancho” Villa and his rebel band. It was a journey from which he never returned and it remains the final mystery of a colorful career.

Bierce has penned “Yours truly” at the bottom of the image and added his signature on the lower photographer’s mount. An unknown hand has written “1870/S.F.” on the verso. The words “Yours Truly” are somewhat difficult to read against the pattern of Bierce’s jacket, but his signature is dark and bold. Normal wear and in very good condition. Bierce is rare in signed photographs and this is the earliest example we have ever seen.

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