The rise of Emperor Norton in the 1860s and '70s coincided with the rise of celebrity portrait photography in San Francisco.
Look at the captions in the Campaign's collection of photographs of the Emperor — the most comprehensive assembly online — and you'll see that most of the photos were taken by two studios: Bradley & Rulofson, run by Henry William Bradley (1813-1891) and William Herman Rulofson (1826-1878), and Thomas Houseworth & Co., whose namesake, Thomas Houseworth (1828-1916), had come to prominence in his earlier partnership with George S. Lawrence.
These were the two most successful celebrity portrait studios in the city. And they were fierce competitors.
Two reasons, no doubt, why we have the photographs of Emperor Norton that we do.
Notwithstanding the artistry and the acclaim of each of these studios, it was Thomas Houseworth who pioneered the celebrity catalog — he called it Houseworth's Celebrities — that clients could use to peruse the studio's entire collection of portraits and order copies for themselves.
Bradley & Rulofson — the studio most closely associated with Emperor Norton — quickly followed suit with its own Catalogue. Here's the title page of the 1878 edition:
"Celebrity" in this context does not mean "widely famous," as we understand it to mean today — although, to be sure, those kinds of celebrities are included.
Rather, it means something more like "prominent within a given field." So the Bradley & Rulofson Catalogue includes those who, within society at large, might fit anywhere along the spectrum from notorious to obscure.
Indeed, the Index of the Catalogue (see pages 3 and 4 here) is a virtual social register of the San Francisco of 1878 — starting at the "top" with the President, national, state and local elected officials; then to the military, law and clergy; on to clubmen (Masons, Oddfellows, etc.), the "Newspaper Fraternity," "Scientists, Authors, Poets and Lecturers" and "Painters, Artists, Sculptors"; followed by Steamship Men, Communists, "Chinese, Japanese, Indians, etc." and Railroad Men.
Deeper into the list — reflecting their lower position in the social strata — are "Theatrical Managers, Agents, etc.," Actors and Actresses; followed by "Dwarfs, Giants, etc.," "Magicians, Phrenologists, Spiritualists, etc.," Musicians and "Premieres Danseuses."
Then, just below "Acrobats, Gymnasts, etc." — nearly at the bottom of the list — are "Odds and Ends."
This is where we find "Norton I. Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico."
Catalogue number 2234.
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