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Britton & Rey
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
San Francisco, CA
Death Date: 
The leading lithographic printers in San Francisco during the second half of the 19th century, Britton & Rey published a very large number of views of California, printed both in large format and post cards, as well as commercial work that included maps, stationery and stock certificates. The firm became known as the western Currier & Ives. Joseph Britton (1825-1901) was born in Yorkshire, England, and came to America in 1835 with his family, living in New York City. He had become a lithographer in New York by 1847. In 1849 he traveled to California to seek his fortune in gold mining, but then went to San Francisco where he started a lithography business, probably in 1851, and then joined with C. J. Pollard in 1852 for a brief period. Later in 1852 Britton formed a partnership with the lithographer Jacques Joseph Rey (1820-1892). Rey was born in Bouxwiller, Alsace, France, and apparently was trained in art and lithography. He migrated to California around 1850. In the partnership with Britton, Rey was chiefly the artist who traveled around sketching views and designing prints, although Britton designed views as well. Britton was the chief lithographer who also ran the business side of the firm. Some of their views were probably based on photographs taken by others. In addition, the firm printed lithographs designed by other artists, such as Thomas Almond Ayres (1816-1858), George Holbrook Baker (1824-1906) Frederick August Wenderoth (1819-1884) and Charles Christian Nahl (1818-1878), and printed work designed by other lithographers, such as the firm of Kuchel and Dresel. Designers employed by Britton & Rey included Arthur Frank Mathews (1860-1945), who later became a well-known San Francisco artist and teacher. Rey married Britton’s sister in 1855. A life-long bachelor, Britton lived with the Rey family. The partners had other business interests, including a plumbing and gas-fitting firm formed in 1859, which apparently Rey managed. For a time Britton became associated with other lithographers while Rey worked with a billiard table manufacturer, but by 1967 Rey was back with Britton. They both invested in San Francisco Bay area real estate, and became wealthy. Britton was one of the three original investors in Andres Hallidie’s (1836-1900) first San Francisco cable-car line on Clay Street in 1872, served as a San Francisco City and County Supervisor twice, helped to draft the city’s Charter and was one of the founders of the Mechanics’ Institute Library and Chess Room. After Rey’s death in 1892 and Britton’s retirement, the firm was taken over by Valentine J. A. Rey, J. J. Rey’s son, who ran it at least until the 1906 earthquake and fire. What remained of the Britton & Rey business was sold to another San Francisco printer, A. Carlisle and Company, in 1916. (TNB 4/2016). Selected bibliography: Palmquist, Peter, and Thomas R. Kailbourne. Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary, 1840-1865. Pp. 124-125 and 454-455. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000. Peters, Harry Twyford. California on Stone. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1935.