The Houseworth Photographs
Perhaps it's the hat. But, if presented with a tabletop full of all the extant photographs of Emperor Norton (that we know of) and asked to play a game of "Which of these things is not like the other?", one might well pick this one.
The imperial trappings of sword and epaulettes are here, as they are in many other photographs of the Emperor. But, somehow — maybe a difference in tone conveyed by the jauntier, more casual feathered hat and the softer-fitting jacket — the effect, while certainly royal, is less "military" than it is Shakespearean. More dandy than soldier. More duke than emperor. Perhaps a sign that he still was working on his look.
At the bottom-right corner of the photograph, one can see part of the imprint of the studio: "Housew."
This is Thomas Houseworth and Co.
According to David Shields, the McClintock Professor at the University of South Carolina, Thomas Houseworth (1828-1916) "ran a diversified studio that engaged in stereoscopic landscape work, society portraiture, celebrity publicity, and urban documentary photography employing a stable of operators with different specialties. Among the photographers who worked for Houseworth were William Evan James (1875-1881), Louis Thors, George Fiske (1872-73), Charles Weed (1864), Thomas Hart (1864-66), Eadweard Muybridge, and perhaps Carlton Watkins."
Shields's full brief on Houseworth is illuminating:
Like other prominent photographic studios and publishers of the day, the Houseworth studio maintained a catalog from which one could request a commercial reprint of a photo of a favorite dignitary or entertainer or other public figure — perhaps in the form of a collectible "cabinet card."
The Houseworth catalog was called, simply, Houseworth's Celebrities. It stands to reason that all of the Houseworth photographs of Emperor Norton were in this book.
At least two others can be identified.
Recently, from the "back pages" of a MySpace profile for the electronic-experimental opera, I, Norton, by Bay Area composer Gino Robair, a thumbnail photo surfaced that appears to have been taken during the same sitting — or "standing," as the case may be — as the one above.
Finally — and evidently later in his imperial career, judging from his more-portly bearing — the Emperor was back in the Houseworth studio for a sitting that resulted in the following photograph, presented here as a cabinet card.
First, the back of the card, with Houseworth's elaborately decorated seal. Note the "TH" monogram anchoring the bottom of the seal:
And the front, with the Emperor's photograph, the caption — "Norton I. Emperor of the United States of America and Protector of Mexico" — and Houseworth's studio address at 12 Montgomery Street. (In the synopsis reproduced above, David Shields relates that Houseworth opened this location in 1873 — which tells us that the photo was taken sometime between 1873 and the Emperor's death in January 1880.)
A regal presence, indeed. Helped along, no doubt, by the beaver hat, but perhaps most accentuated by the fact that — of all the known photographs of Emperor Norton — this is the only one in which he is seated at a proper throne.
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