Emperor Norton, c.1871–72
One historical lead, some basic detective skills and a little patience.
Bring this handful of tools to the archeological treasure trove of San Francisco city directories at the Internet Archive — the San Francisco Public Library has an invaluable chronologically ordered list of links to the directories here — and it's remarkable what you can discover that is hidden in plain sight.
Take, for example, this well-known photograph of Emperor Norton.
We've never seen this photograph dated, even in a general way. Previously, in our own gallery of photographs of the Emperor — the most comprehensive online collection of these images — we've listed this photo as "1870s." Conversationally, I generally have said "early 1870s."
But this has been based on nothing more than visual intuition. Photographs of Emperor Norton dated up until 1869 show a gaunt figure, and photos of the Emperor dated from the mid to late 1870s show a man who is either heavier or showing obvious signs of weariness and aging.
Which left "early 1870s" as a reasonable guess for the period when the photograph here was taken.
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But there was one more stone to turn over.
A couple of years ago, I viewed this photograph at the California Historical Society. The photo was mounted as a cabinet card that identified the creators of the portrait as the Tuttle & Johnson studio, "Heliographic Artists" at 523 Kearny Street, San Francisco.
I'd never followed up to do any research on Tuttle & Johnson — or of the individuals, William Nutting Tuttle and Charles Wallace Jacob Johnson, engaged in the partnership. But the desire to learn more — and to identify the specific location of the studio — for the Campaign's new Emperor Norton Map of the World provided the incentive.
As it turns out, a search of Langley's San Francisco directories from 1871 to 1879 — 1870 is unavailable — finds a listing for "Tuttle & Johnson" in only one year's directory: 1872.
This passage from the entry on William Tuttle in Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary (2000), by Peter E. Palmquist and Thomas Kailbourn, sheds additional light:
Tuttle and Johnson closed their Eureka [Calif.] Gallery around November 5, 1870, and moved their operation to San Francisco's Cosmopolitan Gallery, where they remained until early 1872.
It appears that the Cosmopolitan Gallery was not an existing operation but simply the name that William Tuttle and Charles Johnson gave to their San Francisco business.
Indeed, Palmquist and Kailbourn show that Tuttle was exceptionally, even chronically, peripatetic — constantly picking up and putting down new business partners, starting and stopping new galleries that often lasted only a few months each.
The Langley's city directory for 1871 was published in April 1871. The fact that neither "Tuttle & Johnson" nor the "Cosmopolitan Gallery" appears in this directory suggests that Messrs. Tuttle and Johnson were not up and running in San Francisco until sometime in the spring of 1871.
Langley's 1872 directory was published in March 1872. It included separate listings in the main directory for Tuttle & Johnson and the Cosmopolitan Gallery — both, at 523 Kearny Street, with both Tuttle and Johnson living at 523 Kearny as well — as well as a business directory listing for Tuttle & Johnson, under "Photographic Galleries."
All of which points to a date of c.1871–72 for the photograph above — with the specific window being spring 1871 to spring 1872.
Meaning that this is pretty much exactly how Emperor Norton looked when — with three newspaper Proclamations in January, March and September of 1872 — he set out the original vision for what most people know as the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
We prefer to call it the Emperor Norton.
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