The West Shore
Portland, Multnomah County, Oregon
The Illustrated West Shore
Portland, Multnomah County, Oregon
The West Shore [LCCN: 2012260361], Oregon’s first illustrated publication, was well beyond its time in terms of scope, quality and illustrative nature. The paper started as a booster magazine for the region, encouraging immigration by proudly promoting the seemingly limitless resources and opportunities that existed in the Northwest. The West Shore also distinguished itself from competitors by emphasizing regional literature and art. The initial success and unusual literary direction of the publication can be attributed to its creator, Leopold Samuel, a German-Jewish immigrant who worked as a newspaper boy in New York during his youth.
Samuel was an innovative and determined man. After a series of successful advertising and publishing endeavors in California, he moved to Portland around 1871 and began printing “alphabetical and illustrated Portland city directories.” This was an impressive undertaking considering the amount of illustrations he would use, which were rare at the time and considered a “regional novelty” due to the technical and costly efforts to print them.
Samuel moved on to loftier goals with his eyes set on publishing a truly literary paper, one that proudly exhibited all that the Northwest had to offer. On August 1, 1875, he printed the first edition of the West Shore in Portland, Oregon. Samuel asserted in the first issue that the West Shore was to be full of writings from “the brightest intellects and ablest writers in this State” and the publication would go on to play a very important role in the development of early Pacific Northwest literature. The West Shore celebrated and encouraged literary expression and acted as a great outlet for many early Oregon writers.
Samuel wanted the West Shore to act as a “repository of the lives and acts of the pioneers and representative men and women of Oregon and the North Pacific Coast,” and indeed many early settlers and statesmen wrote for the West Shore, including Lindsay Applegate, an early pioneer, and Joseph Lane, the first governor of the Oregon Territory. Thomas Condon, noted geologist, and Joaquin Miller, the “poet of the Sierras,” also contributed to the publication. Women were also regular contributors; Ella Higginson had a column entitled “Fact and Fancy for Women” in 1890, Frances Fuller Victor wrote on the history of Oregon, and Belle W. Cooke submitted poetry.
Samuel was so dedicated to encouraging settlement in the region that land owners were allowed to advertise farms and plots of land for sale free of charge. Samuel hired skilled artists to create lithographic prints of “public buildings, schools, churches, business blocks and residences,” in addition to prints of a general nature, to showcase the regional architecture and encourage settlement and economic growth. These detailed and high-quality images provide a brilliant record of the built environment and offer a glimpse into 1880s life in the Pacific Northwest.
Besides a commitment to superior artwork, regional literature and promoting the Northwest, the West Shore was also devoted to exposing its readers to philosophy and science and dedicated some space to horticulture, finances and humorous writings. Major national events, like the assassination of President Garfield in 1881, would dominate entire issues.
Over the years as Oregon grew, less emphasis was placed on immigration and travel news, and the paper itself underwent several iterations. Generic woodcut prints were replaced by finer lithographic prints of regional landmarks, and eventually the publication utilized color illustrations. Beginning as an 8-page monthly publication in 1875, the West Shore increased to 32 pages in 1878 and 48 pages in 1884, finally becoming a 72-page behemoth in 1887. In September of 1889, the West Shore was published every Saturday in Portland, Oregon and Spokane, Washington. In March of 1891, after Samuel had left the paper, the West Shore became the Illustrated West Shore [LCCN: 2012260365] and would only survive until May of that same year.
With each new iteration, the subscription price for the West Shore increased. Originally set at $1.50 a year, in 1884 the price increased to $2.00 a year. At this point, Samuel had established agencies for the West Shore in Europe, New Zealand and Canada in order to further promote the Pacific Northwest and encourage immigration to the state. Subscriptions sold for $2.25 a year in foreign countries. In 1887, the price was increased again to $2.50. The weekly publication from 1889 cost $4.00 a year, the pricey subscription rate contributing to the decline in the paper’s sales.
Samuel’s high standards, numerous color illustrations, and refusal to run “objectionable advertising,” such as gimmicky medicinal products, led the West Shore to be a very well-respected, albeit expensive, publication. Within three years, the West Shore had a circulation of 8,160 which was by far the largest in the Pacific Northwest, and at its peak the West Shore would have over 15,000 subscribers. However, Samuel’s “artistic and literary ideas were in advance of the business possibilities of the times” and on May 2, 1891 the paper was suspended. Although somewhat short lived, the West Shore nonetheless provided thousands of people with access to art, literature, poetry and science; an incredible victory in the development of the Pacific Northwest.
Prepared with reference to:
Cleaver, J. D. “L. Samuel and the 'West Shore': Images of a Changing Pacific Northwest.” Oregon Historical Quarterly 94, no. 2 (Summer-Fall, 2003): 166-224.
Tucker, Kathy. “News Editorial, a Prosperous Future.” Oregon Historical Society - Oregon History Project, 2002.
Turnbull, George S. History of Oregon Newspapers. Portland, Oregon: Binfords & Mort, 1939.
--Written by Emily Vance