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Gold Fever Part II


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Stepping Back - Chinese Store Site

Chinese Items c. 1851The objects shown here offer clear evidence of a thriving Chinese community in San Francisco during the Gold Rush era. Allen Pastron, who excavated them stated: San Francisco was and is the heart of the overseas Chinese. The Chinese store site at the intersection of Sacramento and Kearny Street is the oldest Chinese site ever found in the United States. All of the material was specifically imported for sale to San Francisco's Chinese community, objects that reminded the Chinese immigrants of home.

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Much of San Francisco burned during the fire of 1851. Certain blocks of San Francisco had been dynamited as firebreaks. This block may well have been one of them. Intact and fragmentary ong gai pai bottles, containing Chinese alcoholic beverages, were found concentrated together in some semblance of the order of the store as it existed in mid-1851.

Porcelian Toiletry Objects c. 1850Allen Pastron continued: The Chinese store wasn't burned, but dynamited to make a fire break. What we found was a redwood floor that was still intact, piled with three or four feet of this densely concentrated mass of mostly broken artifacts. You could still see the order of a store. We found rice bowls still stacked up sometimes five or six high, brownware beverage bottles of various sizes grouped together as they would have been on the shelves of a store - the entire range of material culture that is reflective of Chinese life in the United States.

We had an idea that the Chinese store was probably destroyed in the Great Fire of May 3, 1851. Nevertheless, it's always nice to find a piece of conclusive evidence. We excavated through this massive material, and we're talking hundreds and hundreds of thousands of artifacts. As we finally came to the floor itself, what did we find? A mint condition coin with the date 1851 on it. It was a fantasy situation for an archaeologist. You couldn't find anything better than that, unless a voice had spoken to you from the floor itself saying "1851."

 

Top: Chinese Items c. 1851, Photo by Joe Samberg, Collection of Allen Pastron
Bottom: Porcelain Toiletry Objects, c. 1850, Photo by Joe Samberg, Collection of Allen Pastron

Chinese Store Site

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