Rare Photographs of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake up for Auction

San Francisco Earthquake 1906
San Franciscans walk among the rubble on Montgomery Street looking north from Market Street.

A rare set of photographs taken in the immediate aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake are set for auction today in California.

The fading sepia photos depict scenes of devastation with flattened buildings, rubble-strewn streets, and people living in makeshift accommodations shown in the images.

The set of 20 photos printed on sensitized stiff paper leaves in a letterbox aspect ratio are set to be auctioned today by PBA Galleries.

San Francisco Earthquake 1906
Tents on East Street near Market Street that provided shelter for survivors of the quake.
San Francisco Earthquake 1906
California Street looking West from Drumm Street.

1906 San Francisco Earthquake

In the early hours of April 18, 1906, a 7.9 magnitude quake struck the Californian coast, and the shock, along with subsequent fires destroyed 80 percent of the city and killed more than 3,000 people.

The cataclysmic event is still the worst earthquake in the history of the United States and is the greatest loss of life from a natural disaster in California’s history.

San Francisco Earthquake 1906
Refugees gather in makeshift housing on the corner of Drumm and Clay Streets.
San Francisco Earthquake 1906
Lotta’s Fountain on Kearny Street which became a meeting point for citizens in the aftermath and is still used as a memorial for victims of the earthquake in the 21st century.

Some of the auction photos show the human toll, refugee tent communities had to be haphazardly arranged after tens of thousands of people lost their homes. Some fled the city while others lived on the streets.

“San Francisco is gone,” novelist and author Jack London, then 30 years old, famously wrote as he surveyed the ruined city. “Nothing remains of it but memories and a fringe of dwelling-houses on its outskirts.”

The SFGate notes that lawlessness broke out in the days after the earthquake, with the local press reporting dozens of killings, including a man who was shot for carrying a chicken that was thought to be stolen.

The starting bid for the photos is set at $750 and the auction will be conducted online with a live auctioneer and real-time bidding. For more information head to the PBA Galleries website.