The McPherson Collection has never been counted, but in 1964 two hundred packing cases were shipped from William McPherson’s Orange County ranch to Honnold/Mudd Special Collections, and these packing cases contained an estimated ten thousand volumes in addition to extensive ephemera. The collection contains books on all aspects of California history, but is strongest on Orange County and agriculture in Southern California, particularly the history of avocado culture. Among the McPherson materials are also to be found a considerable body of manuscripts. There are several hundred matrimonial investigation records from Mission San Gabriel of the period 1788–1861; miscellaneous correspondence from early California missionaries, etc., 1773–1856; and logs of ships.

William McPherson was born in 1885 in Orange County, California, into a ranching family that grew grapes, citrus, and avocados. After college, McPherson left the ranch and for several years taught science in Southern California schools and colleges. Keenly interested in the history of the southwestern United States and California, he wrote many articles on the subject and amassed a collection of Western Americana that by 1929 constituted one of the largest private libraries in Southern California of the time. McPherson kept a diary for 43 years that documents his activities as a rancher, a scholar, and a collector.

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