Skip to main content

San Francisco Custom House records

Call Number: WA MSS S-2436

Scope and Contents

The San Francisco Custom House Records, housed in 5 boxes and comprising 4.14 linear feet, consist of four series: Appraiser's Reports,Coasting Manifests,Merchandise Entry Papers, and Other Documents. The collection, which spans the dates 1850-1861, consists of printed forms accomplished in manuscript detailing ship names, captains, ports and dates of departure, cargo, worth of cargo, date of entry into the port of San Francisco, and memos written by appraisers and collectors. The cargo includes foodstuffs, clothing, liquor, lumber and other building supplies, and leisure articles. The ships carrying the cargo hail from parts of the United States and Europe, South America, Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Australia.

Series I, Appraiser's Reports (1851-1861), housed in box 1, consists of appraisals of cargo entering the port of San Francisco, predominantly in 1851 and 1853. Appraisals were done in the absence of an invoice for goods or when the cargo had been damaged. Included are original invoices, and printed oaths signed by captains or owners swearing that there is no invoice for the goods shipped. The reports are arranged in chronological order.

Series II, Coasting Manifests (1851-1853), housed in box 2, consists of over 100 manifests for cargo laden at the Port of San Francisco, and destined for domestic points along the west coast, including San Diego, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Sacramento, Stockton, Benicia, Astoria, and Portland. Over half of the manifests are dated August 1851. Cargo includes foodstuffs, clothing, ballast [on ships outbound from San Francisco], liquor, and building materials. The series is organized into manifests for ships bound from San Francisco and bound to San Francisco. Within these subseries, they are arranged chronologically.

Series III, Merchandise Entry Papers (1850-1858), housed in box 3, is organized in two subseries: Import Entries and Warehouse Entries. Each subseries is arranged chronologically by date of entry. Import Entries consists of over 100 certificates, predominantly from 1851, documenting the declaration and taxation of cargo shipments from foreign ports. Oaths signed by the owner or consignee are printed on the verso. Entry documents for domestically produced merchandise returning from abroad are also present. Warehouse Entries consists of seven entry certificates documenting the deposit of imported goods, mostly liquors and foodstuffs, into warehouses in 1850 and 1851. The entries include details about the valuation of merchandise upon withdrawal.

Series IV, Other Documents (1851-1860), housed in box 4, includes inspectors' returns, various kinds of manifests, passenger returns, receipts, vessel certificates, and other documents. The series is arranged alphabetically by type of material, and most documents are dated 1850 and 1851. Also present is a carte-de-visite photograph of an unidentified man, a document granting power of attorney to N. M. Roberts for the shipping firm of Falkner, Bell & Co., and an earlier description of the Custom House Records which outlines the collection's potential for social and economic research. Oaths, certificates and invoices which have become detached from their parent documents are housed as fragments (folder 43).

Oversize contains material from Series I-IV, and is organized in box order.


  • 1850 - 1861


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The San Francisco Custom House Records are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Frederick W. and Carrie S. Beinecke.


4.14 Linear Feet ((5 boxes) + 5 rolls, 9 broadside folders)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


Collection consists primarily of printed forms completed in manuscript: appraiser's reports, manifests, certificates of entry, receipts, invoices, oaths and other shipping records that document maritime traffic in San Francisco during the Gold Rush.


In 1846 American troops signalled the occupation of San Francisco by raising an American flag above the former Mexican customhouse. The port, then known as Yuerba Beuna, fell into American control. The military retained jurisdiction over tariff collection and other civic affairs until California's interim government was established in 1849. The administration of dues and the regulation of maritime traffic for the port was eventually transferred to the United States Customs Service, a federal agency established in 1789 as a subordinate body of the Treasury Department.

Through the middle of the 19th century, San Francisco was California's principal commercial port. Customs officials were charged with the regulation of international maritime commerce and were responsible for administering United States customs laws. Responsibilities included collecting duties on imported goods, enforcing export control laws, registering and licensing vessels, and documenting the entry and clearance of merchandise, sailors and passengers.

In June of 1850 the United States Customs Service leased a property in San Francisco from a local merchant. The city-wide fire in May 1851 consumed the building. Shipping records detailing tonnage, merchandise and passenger movements for 1849, 1850, and the first half of 1851 were reported destroyed. Records and goods which survived the fire were temporarily moved to another building until construction of the "Custom-House Block" was complete. In November 1853 Custom House operations relocated to the new structure at the south-east corner of Sansome and Sacramento Streets, where customs officials shared space with the naval department and the United States Post Office. An earthquake on October 17, 1865, caused massive damage to the "Block".

The current U.S. Customs House at 555 Battery Street was constructed after a design competition in 1905. Excavation was completed before the San Francisco earthquake and fire in April 1906 but a shortage of labor and materials delayed completion until 1911.

Guide to the San Francisco Custom House Records
Under Revision
by Diana Smith and Kathleen T. Burns
February 2003
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

P. O. Box 208330
New Haven CT 06520-8330 US
(203) 432-2977


121 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Opening Hours

Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.