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    Extremely Rare and Early Emperor Norton 50 Cents Red Printed Note

    San Francisco, CA - (Imperial) Government of Norton the First 50 Cents "Convertible into 7% Bonds in 1880 or Payable by Agents" June 5, 1872. PCGS Very Fine 35.
    The One and Only
    Emperor of the United States

    The story of folk hero Joshua A. Norton, who on September 17, 1859, proclaimed himself Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, is intriguing. Like countless others, he was drawn to San Francisco in 1849 by the Gold Rush. Although prosperous for a number of years as a commission merchant and entrepreneur, he lost all his money in 1858 after the collapse of the market for rice.

    Whether his delusion of being emperor was caused by the shock of his insolvency, or perhaps dementia, Norton believed that he was indeed the Emperor of the United States and acted accordingly, issuing "bonds," which he used as currency, and collecting "taxes," in cash by means of personal visits. What is astonishing is that San Francisco's citizens rallied around him with compassionate deference.

    Robert Louis Stevenson writes:

    "Of all our visitors, I believe I preferred Emperor Norton; the very mention of whose name reminds me I am doing scanty justice to the folks of San Francisco. In what other city would a harmless madman who supposed himself emperor of the two Americas have been so fostered and encouraged? Where else would even the people of the streets have respected the pour soul's illusion? Where else would bankers and merchants have received his visits, cashed his cheques, and submitted to his small assessments? Where else would he have been suffered to attend and address the exhibition days of schools and colleges? Where else, in god's green earth, have taken his pick of restaurants, ransacked the bill of fare, and departed scathless?"
    --Delphi Complete Works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Delphi Classics, 2015

    Joshua Norton died suddenly on January 8, 1880, and his funeral drew tens of thousands of mourners. Interest in his life and legacy was rekindled in 2013 by writer John Lumea. Citing Norton's 1872 proclamation decreeing that "a suspension bridge be built from Oakland Point to Goat Island, and thence to Telegraph Hill," Lumea embarked upon a campaign to name the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge after Emperor Norton (emperorsbridge.org). Norton lives on in film and television episodes, including Bonanza, which are available for viewing on the Newman Numismatic Portal.

    An extremely rare and early date example of this historic American "currency" issued by the enigmatic Joshua Norton, as "Emperor" of his self-proclaimed domain. Norton's personal popularity in San Francisco allowed him to pass these "convertible bonds" for goods and services, such as his nightly rent at a boarding house, for close to a decade. Twenty years before this note was issued, he was successful and wealthy. His speculation in rice imports led to his financial doom and the lawsuits that followed. Whether he reinvented himself by plan or madness is speculation. However, the Norton I notes are among the most popular Obsolete currency subjects and western paper Americana documents. The Newman Collection contains three different examples, all representing different obligation series. Uniface, lithographed in all red on white rag paper. 20.4 cm x 11.7 cm. The imprint, under the base frame line, is custom to the issuer: CUDDY & HUGHES, Printers to his Majesty Norton I, 511 Sansome Street, S. F. Supposedly, Norton was not charged for the printing costs and this imprint served as an advertisement for the firm. Ornate borders contain the obligations and two vignettes: Norton in uniform at lower left, and a young woman with hair in ringlets at lower right. Along the top, an ornate "Received of" is followed by the line for the recipient of the bond's signature. "San Francisco" and a handwritten date line are to the upper right. The obligation is in five lines: "The Amount with Interest, to be convertible into 7 per cent. Bonds/ in 1880, or payable by the Agents of our Private Estate in case the Government of Norton/ the First does not hold firm./ In testimony whereof, we hereto affix our royal seal / and signature," signed Norton I, Emperor on the shaded block below, with a black ink stamping to the left . Unnumbered. Marckhoff Type 2 (Numismatic Scrapbook, March 1982, pp.671-682). The illustrated example in that article was credited to the California State Historical Society (that dated July 3, 1872). This type was missing from major publicly offered collections from the past decades including Clifford and Ford. It is the first red printed note we have cataloged and is a very distinctive type. The later Norton I types frequently realize in excess of $10,000 each. This is worthy of exceeding that level handily due to its much greater rarity and excellent condition.
    Ex: Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society




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