"Emperor Norton I" © wood engraving (ed. 40) image: 7 x 5 in. $100.00 (go to "Hi There" for purchase information)
Joshua A. Norton immigrated to the United States from South Africa with a fortune and began to grow that fortune in San Francisco real estate. He took advantage of a shortage of rice at one point and cornered the market, only to see that advantage disappear. A fleet of ships, full of rice, arrived from South America in 1858 and he was forced to declare bankruptcy. Some say it was the shock of losing a fortune so quickly which drove him insane. Whatever it was he certainly started behaving oddly when he announced to a local paper that he was declaring himself Emperor of North America. San Franciscans embraced this wacky behavior and encouraged his eccentricities. When his outlandish uniform he had created for himself wore out various members of the community would supply replacement parts and one citizen gave him a permanent residence. Restaurants would allow him to eat at their establishments free, then declared "By Appointment to his Imperial Majesty, Emperor Norton I of the United States". Emperor Norton would make his rounds throughout the city, inspecting things and was treated deferentially by all. He died penniless in 1880 and was buried with honors following an elaborate funeral attended by thousands.

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