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Joshua Abraham Norton


Born in London, England. He came from Cape of Good Hope and settled in San Francisco in December 1849. He improved his initial stake of $40,000 in 1849 to assets of $250,000 in 1853 through real estate and brokerage transactions. In 1852 he joined the Masonic Lodge. In 1853 he attempted to corner the rice market and failed. His mental health may have failed at about the same time.

In 1859 Norton began to exercise his authority as Emperor of the United States. He published a notice in the San Francisco Bulletin announcing his proclamation and assumption of the title of Emperor. The paper would continue to publish his decrees, such as one declaring the end of the Civil War. He wore a uniform of regal design but worn condition. He was usually seen with his two dogs Bummer and Lazarus. He was graciously received about town and frequently dined free. He negotiated loans with local businesses. If he was unsuccessful in receiving a loan for millions of dollars, he might be content to leave with a small donation of pocket change.

His empire was partially financed by promissory notes that were printed for Norton and hand signed. A series of notes for fifty cents were issued to be payable in 1880. They promised to pay seven percent interest. His reign as Emperor was generally supported in good spirits by the citizens of San Francisco. More than 10,000 people attended his funeral.

profile: NUM 46 Mar 1933 pages 160-161; NSM Mar 1962 pages 671-682; NUM 100 Apr 1987 page 733-737

see: Emperor Norton by Albert Dressler, 1927

Source credit: Pete Smith, American Numismatic Biographies


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