"C.C. Pierce Collection of Rare, Historical and Curious Photographs, Illustrating California, the Pacific Coast and the Southwest" was the earlier description given to a collection of photographs which document the history of Los Angeles and its environs from the 1860s to the 1930s. C.C. Pierce was one of the many enigmatic photographers of that era whose own history was not recorded. It is known that he arrived in Los Angeles in 1886, a time of energetic development which he set about to record with his camera. He succeeded in assembling a collection of close to 15,000 photographs and establishing a clientele of private collectors, museums and libraries. In addition to his own photographs he copied the works of his contemporaries, including Charles Puck and George Wharton James.
James was an eccentric but eloquent booster of California and the Southwest, areas which he traveled extensively, lectured on, and wrote about in numerous publications. With his camera he also created a unique ethnographic record of many of the Native American groups of the Southwest, including the Hopi, Wallapi, Navajo, and others. Lugging his dry-plate camera equipment from location to location he recorded their customs, ceremonies, occupations, arts, and games. At some point C.C. Pierce purchased 2000 of James’ glass plate negatives.
In 1941 the Title Insurance and Trust company of Los Angeles purchased Pierce’s collection of negatives and prints to be used for promotional and advertising purposes, but most notably as illustrations for the many articles and books written by the company’s historian William Wilcox Robinson. This rich resource was also made available to other historians and pictorial researchers. The collection established an even greater presence when the Title Insurance and Trust Company donated it to the California Historical Society in 1977 for its new History Center on Wilshire Boulevard. For a decade the center remained one of the premier research facilities in the area. Its closure in 1988 and transfer to a storage site was an unfortunate period in the history of the collection. However, in 1990 the University of Southern California accepted the collection on a long-term loan and deposited it at the Regional History Center of the Department of Special Collections. Since then C.C. Pierce photographs have regained their stature as a valuable resource for historians, scholars, and pictorial researchers.
In the late 1990s a project was launched to digitize the CHS images and they were the first to be incorporated into the USC Digital Archive, in 2009 renamed the USC Digital Library: