SFPD Crime Clipping Scrapbooks

A few SFPD crime clippings scrapbooks, spine views
For the last several months, the staff at the San Francisco History Center has been hard at work processing archival records of the San Francisco Police Department. As mentioned in an earlier post, the collection consists of approximately 65 linear feet of records issued or compiled by the Board of Police Commissioners, the Chief of Police, and other offices and bureaus of the SFPD, circa 1880s-1960s.

The crime clippings scrapbooks are particularly--to abuse the term—arresting. These 48 volumes, labeled “California Books,” contain newspaper stories covering local and state crimes from 1908 to 1933. Besides crimes, these scrapbooks document other events that typically involve the police force, including accidents, runaways, suicides, elopements and the like. Although it is uncertain which office or bureau compiled these forty-eight books, it is clear from the deteriorated labels is that at one time there were at least sixty-five volumes.

As you might be able to infer from the picture above, processing these scrapbooks involves collaboration with SFPL's Preservation Department, which is helping us to evaluate the condition of individual volumes. The staff in Preservation have shown us how to properly clean the covers and pages, which are pretty filthy; then, they are repairing or making containers (called “phase-boxes”) for volumes that need additional care.

Supplies our Library Page Ashley uses: mask, gloves, and special dust cloth.

Here is a shot of a scrapbook in a brand new custom-made phase box,which protects it from dirt, dust, and further damage:

Scrapbook for June 4-Aug. 18, 1909, in phase box
What, you may ask, is inside these intriguing volumes? Let's take a look:
Front cover of a typical scrapbook, when the cover is still existing.
Most of the scrapbooks have handy handwritten name and subject indexes, showing where you can look to find a clip about a particular crime, such as acid-throwing:

Index page for Jan. 2-Apr. 4, 1913
Here we see a typical two-page spread, featuring a club woman convicted of defrauding people, together with various burglaries, lootings, and plunderings:
 Dec. 1909

The San Francisco Police Department Records (SFH 61) are still being processed, so although the records are open to the public, access may be limited while we continue to identify, arrange, describe, and repair them. Please contact the San Francisco History Center ahead of time before requesting records. We will keep you updated on the status as we progress. Thank you!


  1. Acid throwing! Fraud!! This really is fantastic stuff! Expect to be descended upon by hoards of mystery authors and me (the just plain crime curious).

    1. Please make a visit. There are some interesting materials to peruse!
      Through the Internet Archive, San Francisco Public Library digitized a number of San Francisco Police Department Annual Reports which include detailed criminal statistics.
      For 19th century criminal statistics, use the San Francisco Municipal Reports (also online) http://sflib1.sfpl.org/record=b1298517~S1

  2. Hello, I have several of these volumes from SFPD...


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