The Most Respectful Directory?
The San Francisco Public Library has a chronological list of links to all the San Francisco city directories scanned and hosted at the Internet Archive.
The list starts with the 1850 directory compiled by Charles P. Kimball. Between 1850 and 1856, there are fully half-dozen different compilers represented. It was a volatile time in the new business of compiling and publishing directories for the young city of San Francisco.
But, in 1858, we have the first San Francisco directory compiled by Henry G. Langley — a newcomer who produced a directory of such comprehensiveness, quality and high concept in this and future years as to secure for himself and his company a virtual monopoly on the San Francisco directory business for decades.
It was Langley who in 1862 produced the directory that included the first listing for Joshua Norton recognizing his imperial status.
Much is made of the parenthetical "Emperor" after Joshua Norton's name — a practice that Langley maintained for the duration of Emperor Norton's life. But there was another directory that went a good bit further in explaining exactly who it was that lived at 624 Commercial Street between Montgomery and Kearny.
In 1875, Duncan M. Bishop mounted a challenge to Henry Langley with his New City Annual Directory of San Francisco. Perhaps the most important distinction of this publication is that it was San Francisco's first "raceless" directory of San Francisco. Robert Chandler, in his biography San Francisco Lithographer: African American Artists Grafton Tyler Brown (University of Oklahoma Press, 2014), points out that
San Francisco city directories since 1850 had designated African American residents as "colored." Bishop changed that....Though it was too late to change the entries in his March 1875 directory, Langley dropped the designation "(Colored)" with his offering of April 1876.
To distinguish his publication from Langley's directory, Bishop tried out a novel way of presenting the listing information. And, in the 1875 listing that most interests us here, the parenthetical "(Emperor)" was expanded to the more-than-complete "(Emperor Norton I)".
One can see that, even if Bishop had followed Langley in using the more abbreviated designation "(Emperor)", the listing for Joshua Norton would have spilled onto a second line.
But, here's the thing. It appears that Emperor Norton referred to himself as "Emperor," "Emperor Norton" or "Norton I" — but not "Emperor Norton I". This — plus the fact that the Langley's directory for the same year, 1875, uses "(Emperor)" — suggests that either Duncan Bishop himself or whomever set the type for this particular page took the liberty of embellishing the honorific.
Perhaps Bishop or someone in his employ had a soft spot for the Emperor?
Subsequent editions of Bishop's directory looked virtually identical to Langley's — perhaps why the directory appears to have folded after the 1878 edition — and, like Langley's, used the shorter "(Emperor)".
But, for the brief shining moment of the inaugural edition of 1875, nobody using Bishop's directory and finding the listing for Joshua Norton had to ask "Emperor who?"
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