Treasurer of a small New York company, Van Valen took a ship to California that sailed around Cape Horn to join many others in search of wealth during the California Gold Rush. He was unsuccessful and returned within just two years.
The collection consists of Van Valen's diary, describing the voyage south around the tip of South America and north to California, and the city of San Francisco upon his arrival, and containing the documents establishing the gold prospecting company that Van Valen was involved in; correspondence between Van Valen and his wife; correspondence with his financial backers, some of them describing the day-to-day operations of gold prospecting; hand-drawn maps; a daguerreotype; and a framed hand-colored photograph. Also included are typewritten transcripts of the letters.
Alexander Van Valen Papers, 1849-1850, Archives Center, National Museum of American History