Last month’s unveiling of an Emperor Norton plaque at the Salesforce Transit Center is one of the finest and best-preserved historical artifacts commemorating our beloved San Francisco icon Emperor Joshua Norton. But alas, it is not truly from Emperor Norton’s era; that plaque was completed in 1939, while Norton himself died in 1880. True Norton-handled items are exceedingly rare and valuable, as they’re more than a hundred years old and so very few survived the 1906 earthquake and fires. But a priceless Norton relic has just turned up, and you can go see it right now, as NBC Bay Area reports that the bar Emperor Norton’s Boozeland on Larkin has acquired an authentic Emperor Norton promissory note, which has been authenticated as legit, and appraised as being worth $15,000.
Emperor Norton, of course, handed out the notes as his own handmade currency in the 1860s and 70s. With a face value of 50 cents on the day the Emperor signed them, these notes now fetch five figures among collectors.
“I decided to buy it sight unseen and sans authentication,” Emperor Norton’s Boozeland owner Kevin DeMattia told NBC Bay Area. DeMattia has all manner of Emperor Norton ephemera on display at his bar, from murals to sculptures to ‘Don’t Call it Frisco’ signs, but the only Emperor Norton currency he’s ever had was a replica. “They were printed by the thousands, but then the Great Fire came through and burned everything, so they went from everyone had one to no one had one,” he said.
The bill’s authenticity has been verified, thanks to the efforts of the Emperor’s Bridge Campaign that has long sought to add "Emperor Norton Bridge" as a name for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. “Kevin first messaged me about an out-of-the-blue offer to purchase an Emperor Norton note from February 1878,” campaign president John Lumea writes in the Facebook post above. “I put out feelers among my contacts in the numismatics community.”
(By ‘numismatics’ he means the study of currency from centuries past, and the expert brought in was Kagin’s Inc. of Tiburon.)
Appraiser Don Kagin decreed that it was authentic, noting it was hand-numbered as 2573, is the fortieth known genuine surviving note. He valued it between $12,000 and $15,000, though its 1878 face value is but 50 cents.
While the note is worth $15,000, DeMattia has no intention of selling. “To have the actual note that was in his room with him while he signed and carried it in his pocket and gave it to someone, that’s beautiful,” he told NBC Bay Area.
Though a party celebrating the note already happened last weekend, you can pop in and check the note out at Emperor Norton’s Boozeland, 510 Larkin Street (at Turk Street) from Noon to 2 a.m. every day.
Top Image: Joe Kukura, SFist