Pat Ford is the personification of the peripatetic bibliophile, with travels ranging from the California Sierras to the Scottish highlands to “Upper Siberia”—his term for the frigid stacks of UC San Diego’s Mandeville Special Collections Library, where he’s spent many hours doing pre-cataloging volunteer work.
It was travels along the John Muir trail that first sent Ford on the book collecting path. Hiking in the Sierras, he started musing about antique book stores and finally “got up the nerve” to go into the intimidating John Howell antiquarian book store on Post Street in San Francisco. He timidly asked the clerk if they had a book about John Muir, was handed a first edition, opened it up, and out dropped a signed Muir letter. He purchased both the book and the letter for $45—now worth, he estimates, $400-$500. That letter is framed on his library wall.
A native Californian, Ford has limited his collecting to the 1830-1850 period in California history, up to the time of statehood. His collecting has taken him throughout all of California, and to other parts of the world. While collecting books about Yosemite, for instance, he obtained a watercolor of Yosemite Falls by Lady C.F. Gordon-Cumming, a Scottish author who wrote the first definitive tourist guide to the Yosemite area in 1878. That inspired him to conduct field research about her in Scotland.
A year ago, the 85-year-old traveler backpacked in Europe. But that was the last time, he said. His trip to Yosemite this spring, to further his work on John Charles Fremont, will not include a backpack.
This "Journal of Ramblings" by Dr. Joseph Le Conte, one of the founding faculty members at UC Berkeley, documents a university excursion to Yosemite that Le Conte led in 1869 for nine members of UC's first class of undergraduates.
Q: How did you become interested in collecting?
A: Kenneth Hill, my neighbor in Rancho Santa Fe, got me involved in UC San Diego’s Mandeville Special Collections Library while he was president of the Friends of UCSD Libraries. Prior to that I was interested in John Muir and my first collector books were first editions of his work, branching into collectables about the Sierra Nevada. I did bibliography verification in Special Collections of the Kenneth Hill Collection of Voyages of the Pacific, which he had donated to the Libraries.
Q: Tell us about some of the rare or unusual items in your collection.
A: There are a number I could cite. Certainly the complete group of Muir first editions, including a beautiful set of 10 volumes of all his books in a special edition published after his death. The collection includes some special limited editions about the Sierra, and a collection of biographies of John Charles Fremont and Kit Carson, who were involved in the conquest of California during the War with Mexico. Also of note are the first editions of definitive travel accounts of the South Pacific and India by the Scottish author Lady Gordon-Cumming. Last and certainly not least, I have a few signed copies of Winston Churchill’s early works.
Q: How many items are in your collection? Are you collecting now?
A: I am no longer collecting due to lack of shelf space and having acquired most of my early California collection. Occasionally something shows up that I buy, but I am also selling some of the very rare editions that increased in value at about three times my cost in order to sustain my retirement.
Q: We understand you have current projects underway for the Mandeville Special Collections Library. Could you describe these?
A: I am presently completing an extensive evaluation of John Charles Fremont’s impact on the expansion of the West in a manuscript that references books about his life and expeditions that are in the UC San Diego Library collection. Next I will do the same with Kit Carson, using the material I have in my personal collection and various field research projects.