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Sickels Collection Photos
A Rare Survivor

Historical Document Uncovered in SDSU Library Collection

The Sickels Collection is housed in the Scholars Room of Special Collections and University Archives in the SDSU Library.
SDSU Library staffers cataloging rare books and manuscripts donated by a prominent Aztec alumnus have made a surprising discovery: a hand-written note signed twice by one of San Diego’s earliest settlers. The document, dated July 2, 1853, is a receipt for a gun purchased by San Diego pioneer merchant Thomas Whaley, head of a well-known family and the builder of what is considered to be San Diego’s most historic structure.

The receipt was among 687 items donated to the university last year by Kit Sickels (’60), a rare books collector who serves as chair of The Campanile Foundation’s board of directors. The Sickels Collection focuses primarily on Mexican art and civilization and is one of the largest rare book collections by content and appraised value that the library has ever received.

"It's a terrific collection," said Rob Ray, head of Special Collections and University Archives, who said staff members had been cataloging its contents for much of the past year. “I would consider it a foundational collection stunning in its depth, variety and richness.”

Rob Ray examines a photograph from the Sickels Collection.
Currently housed in glass bookcases in the Special Collections Scholars Room, The Sickels Collection contains rare first edition books published in Mexico along with a wide range of additional documents. They include original manuscripts, pamphlets, gazettes, prints, photographs, broadsides, maps and ephemera.

“Then there's a few things focusing on Mexican photography that are pretty notable," said Ray.


But the collection’s unexpected attention-grabber was the Whaley receipt from a period when San Diego was little more than a village of 600 residents. Original documents from San Diego dating from this early period are considered an extraordinary find.

The rare 1853 revolver receipt is signed twice by San Diego pioneer merchant Thomas Whaley.
“As a document, it is a rare survivor of that era,” said Joe Bray, a rare books consultant who worked with Sickels in establishing the collection. “It’s not common to have anything from San Diego in the 1850s.”

Bray said he was unsure how the receipt, recently valued at $750, came to be part of the Sickels Collection. He speculated it may have been part of a grouping of rare documents bought at auction in New York or some other East Coast location where such collections are more common.

“Kit is a collector interested in rare materials and the continued preservation of them for their scholarly value,” Bray said. “It would be nice if there were more of that in San Diego."


As one of the first eastern merchants to set up a business in San Diego, Thomas Whaley remains an important figure in the city’s history. His family’s home, built in 1857, is now a museum and one of San Diego’s most popular tourist attractions.

The house is widely believed to be haunted. In fact, the Travel Channel program "Most Haunted" designated the Whaley House as the most haunted home in the United States.

The receipt bearing Thomas Whaleys signature has a few creases, but is otherwise in excellent condition. To view a larger scan of the document, click here.