Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - June - 2011 Issue

California and the West Highlight the Argonaut Book Shop's Spring Catalogue

Emperornorton

Emperor Norton I in his imperial regalia.

Most people are unaware of this, but at one time the United States had an emperor. His tale is told in Emperor Norton, the Mad Monarch of America, by Allen Stanley Lane, published in 1939. Joshua Abraham Norton ruled from approximately 1860-1880 as Norton I. Okay, not everyone recognized his rule. Nonetheless, Emperor Norton was widely popular and "obeyed" in his home city of San Francisco. Norton came to San Francisco from South Africa in the Gold Rush days. He carried a sizeable inheritance, and became a successful businessman. However, he made a bad bet on rice during a rice shortage and ended up broke. He left San Francisco for a while, only to return in 1860 a broke and eccentric, mentally unbalanced man. He declared himself "Emperor of these United States," to which he later added the title "Protector of Mexico." He regularly surveyed that part of his empire consisting of the streets of San Francisco, issuing edicts to state and federal officials. While no one truly obeyed his edicts, the people, and even local officials of San Francisco, took a great liking to their Emperor and did their best to appear to comply. They provided him with a military style uniform and a hat with a peacock feather. He ate at the city's finest restaurants, which accepted the imperial currency he created as payment. Norton I ruled until 1880, when he collapsed and died on the city streets. Reportedly some 30,000 people lined the streets for his funeral. It is safe to say that few emperors were ever as beloved by their "subjects" as Emperor Norton. Item 100. $175.

 

Emperor Norton did not possess any royal steeds, but there were a pair of stray dogs who hung out with him at times, and reportedly even dined with him at restaurants (probably not the fine restaurants). Their "tale" is told in Bummer & Lazarus, San Francisco's Famous Dogs, by Malcolm Barker, published in 1984. Item 98. $90.

 

Item 199 is a broadside announcing Garbage. All householders and persons camping on Public squares or other places, are directed to remove all garbage… This was not directed at leisure campers enjoying their vacations in public campsites. It was published in San Francisco in 1906, shortly after the great earthquake. The notice was put out by the Public Health Commission as it sought to avoid the spread of disease in public parks where people whose homes had been destroyed in the earthquake and ensuing fire camped as they tried to figure out what came next. There are several other such broadside notices published at this time also available in this catalogue. $175.

 

The Argonaut Book Shop may be reached at 415-474-9067 or ArgonautSF@PacBell.net. Their website is www.argonautbookshop.com.

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