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    San Francisco, CA - The Imperial Government of Norton I 50¢ July 14, 1876
    One of the notable characters in San Francisco history is "Emperor Norton of the United States." Joshua Abraham Norton was born in Algoa Bay, South Africa on February 4, 1819. In 1849, after receiving a $40,000 bequest from the estate of his father, he emigrated to San Francisco. His initial business efforts were quite successful and he was able to substantially grow his fortune. However, an investment in Peruvian rice caused him financial ruin and he was forced to declare bankruptcy. His mental state seriously declined at that point and he left San Francisco briefly.

    After he returned, he notified several newspapers on September 17, 1859 that he was declaring himself Emperor of the U.S. In his new self-appointed role, he issued several declarations about various matters. Some considered him a visionary, because among his decrees were several with merit, including the formation of a League of Nations and building a suspension bridge between San Francisco and Oakland. He dressed in uniform and wandered the streets. Norton was well liked by many who considered him eccentric and he was often given free meals and received invitations to the theater. His occupation is listed in the 1870 U.S. Census as "Emperor" as this cataloger can attest. The City even purchased a new uniform for him after his became worn.

    In the 1870s, he began issuing promissory notes that he referred to as "Imperial Treasury Bond Certificates." The denominations ranged from 50¢ to $100 and he sold them to both citizens and tourists who collected them as souvenirs. He was a rock star of his day, with merchants selling Emperor Norton merchandise ranging from postcards to dolls. Emperor Norton's notes remain quite popular today with collectors, leading them to take the number 100 spot on the list of the 100 Greatest American Currency Notes. It has been estimated that only two or three dozen pieces have survived. The March 1933 issue of The Numismatist included an article about the Emperor and his notes.

    Norton collapsed and died on January 8, 1880. His funeral was a huge affair, with at least 10,000 mourners reported, although some accounts list as many as 30,000. Over 130 years later, he is still well remembered, at least partially due to his influence on popular culture. Several characters in novels were based on him, including works by Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson. The centennial of his death was recognized in 1980.

    This 50¢ example is numbered 1994 and received a grade of Very Fine 30 from PCGS. The note is dated July 14, 1876 rather than the 1871 listed on the PCGS holder. The imprint reads, "CUDDY & HUGHES, Printers to His Majesty Norton I, 511 Sansome street, S.F." Norton is depicted at upper right and his signature remains bold. We sold another example at this same grade level in our recent FUN auction. That note realized $12,650. The population of surviving examples featuring this design is believed to be between 6 to 10. A rare and desirable piece that will certainly be treasured by its next custodian.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    April, 2012
    18th-22nd Wednesday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 6
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 1,070

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