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    One of the Most Important Artifacts of Early San Francisco: A Walking Stick Presented In 1855 by James King of William to Abel Whitton. Both were early San Francisco pioneers, having arrived in 1848 and 1851 respectively, and both played prominent roles in the famous San Francisco Vigilance Committee. Whitton was a printer by trade, while King had a varied career as a miner, merchant, and banker. In 1855, with fraud, corruption, and lawlessness raging in San Francisco, the two joined forces to begin publishing the Evening Bulletin newspaper. Its reformist agenda had never before been seen in the city, and in less than two months it had the largest circulation of any periodical in San Francisco.

    On May 14, 1856, King wrote an editorial lambasting a prominent citizen named James P. Casey, to which Casey took great offense. He confronted King in the newspaper offices that afternoon declaring that "if necessary he shall defend himself." While he left without incident, as King made his way home later that day he was confronted by Casey, who drew his pistol and shot him in the left side, mortally wounding King. It is still a subject of scholarly debate whether this was an impetuous act or whether prominent San Franciscans, fearful of the newspaper's muckraking editorial policy, had simply used Casey, widely known as "a man of ungovernable temper and desperate character," as a tool to silence King . The original Vigilance Committee had been dormant since 1851, but the shooting of King led to such public outrage that it was quickly revived.

    Four days after King's murder, the Vigilance Committee's membership had already swollen to nearly 3500. Some 1500 armed men marched on the city jail from different directions, and served the sheriff with a written summons requiring him to "forthwith surrender the possession of the jail to the citizens presenting the demand and prevent the effusion of blood by instant compliance." Upon assurance that Casey would receive a fair trial, the sheriff surrendered him to the Committee. He was held at their headquarters until May 20, when King died of his wound. Casey was tried that evening, found guilty of murder, and sentenced to death. His hanging and King's spectacular funeral occurred a few days later. The funeral took place at noon, and an observer would write that "no spectacle of the kind to at all compare with it had been seen in San Francisco. The population of the city at that time was about 50,000 persons; and nearly every man, woman, and child, besides other visitors from other places, were in the streets."

    The shooting of James King of William was the immediate catalyst for the resurrection of the Vigilance Committee, which had a tremendous impact in rooting out crime and corruption in the city. In 1853, with corrupt politicians running the city, municipal expenditures amounted to over $2.6 million. In 1856, the city functioned on a budget of $353,000.

    In addition to its historical importance, presented from one to another of the most important figures in early San Francisco history, this walking stick is also a magnificent example of the fine craftsmanship for which the city would become famous in the coming decades. The handle is walrus ivory, with an engraved gold plaque inset into the top. A wide gold band below the handle separates the ivory from the wood. According to Witherell's, the esteemed dealer in important California historical collectibles, it is one of the earliest dated San Francisco canes, and perhaps unique in its combined use of gold and walrus ivory.

    The provenance is impeccable, having descended directly from Abel Whitton through the family to his great-granddaughter Ann Whitton. It was featured on the Antiques Roadshow in a 2003 segment. A letter of provenance from Ann Whitton, along with extensive research materials on King and Whitton accompany this lot.

    Condition is excellent, with a mellow patina of wear developed by long years of cherished use (Whitton would survive until 1902).

    Length 33.5".

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    Auction Dates
    May, 2011
    21st Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 0
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 1,273

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