CHINESE EXHIBITION ROOM
Sarah writes of visiting the “Chinese Exhibition Room” while in San Francisco.
This was actually called “Duncan’s Chinese Sales Room”
located at the corner of Sacramento and Leidsdorff Street
and it was very popular in 1853!
Who was Joseph C. Duncan?
Joseph C. Duncan was born in Philadelphia and came to San Francisco during the Gold Rush in 1850 to enter the printing trade. His press was destroyed in 1851 – perhaps by one of the great fires – causing Duncan to explore other businesses.
He opened Duncan’s Chinese Sales Room, where he offered a variety of Asian textiles and other popular objects that ships regularly brought from Hong Kong, Canton and Macao to San Francisco.
THEY WERE KNOWN FOR THEIR “RAFFLES”
This is the raffle that was taking place when Sarah, Williams and Willie visited!
Sacramento Daily Union 4 June 1853…about the raffle!
THE MAMMOTH INGOT OF GOLD RAFFLE!
AT SAN FRANCISCO – To be decided at DUNCAN CHINESE SALESROOM, (late Tobin & Duncan.) on July 5th. 1853.
3,400 PRIZE Value $65,000: TICKETS ONE DOLLAR.
In presenting to the public a collection of the richest and most costly goods ever offered in this city, we pledge the reputation of our well known house for the same fair and impartial distribution of the prizes which has heretofore governed our annual raffles. The Jewelry is guaranteed of the purest gold, and the Gems of the first quality. The Watches have been purchased direct from the well known firm of A. I. Tobias & Co.. and are warranted superior time-pieces. The Jewels are from Messrs. Oaime. Guillemot & Co. and from the first London firms, with guaranteed invoices attached. The entire cargo of Chinese Goods has been selected with great care: the articles being of the newest designs, and most approved styles. A fair business value has been placed upon every prize — the whole amount yielding the legitimate profit of twenty per cent. Catalogues of prizes will be forwarded on Application, at our charge. It contains a list of 833,000 WORTH DIAMONDS. PATENT LEVER WATCHES, and MASSIVE SILVER WARE, also $30,000 worth of the richest and most valuable articles of China and Japanese manufacture.
MORE ABOUT JOSEPH C. DUNCAN
As an art aficionado, Joseph C. Duncan started collecting art from many art dealers in Europe and made himself so well-known that he became the first president of the San Francisco Art Association.
He then came up with a very popular way to make money.
“In a scheme perfectly suited to the reckless, gambling, go-ahead spirit of the gold rush, Californians purchased 100,000 tickets (shares or notes) at $1 each, which, in mid-November were drawn from a wheel of fortune at the Metropolitan Theatre. Over the course of two days, in a great spectacle that provided entertainment and promoted culture, 6,000 superb articles were distributed to the crush of excited Californians who jammed the theatre.”
The paintings and art were given away to shareholders in lottery style.
Were there 100,000 or 85,000 tickets sold?
No one knows, but the event was wildly successful, in any case!
DUNCAN’S DASTARDLY DEEDS
In later years the lottery failed and Duncan organized the Pioneer Bank of Savings and Deposit for regular, working class people. By offering to pay depositors 12% rather than the customary 8%, his bank soon had more than $1.1 million in deposits. He speculated with the deposited funds and lost, causing the bank to fail.
The newspaper headline read:
”Duncan’s Depravity Deluded Depositors Driven to Distraction”
Joseph Duncan attempted escape by ship, then hid in San Francisco, sometimes dressed in women’s clothing, sometimes hiding in a fake bureau drawer. When he was finally captured he was acquitted after four trials.
Duncan’s wife divorced him and, after several more adventures, he died in 1898 in a shipwreck off Cornwall with his third wife and their youngest child.
DUNCAN’S FAMOUS DAUGHTER
One of Joseph Duncan’s daughters was the famous free-spirited dancer, Isadora Duncan,
sometimes called the Mother of Modern Dance.
Raised in California, she performed throughout Europe and taught her own philosophy of dance to many students around the world.
Isadora lived a wild but sad life. Two of her children, born of liaisons with two different married lovers, drowned in 1913 along with their nurse in Paris when their car rolled into the Seine. In 1914 another son died soon after he was born.
Isadora met a tragic death at age 50 on the French Riviera,
when the silk scarf she was wearing
became entangled in the wheels and axle of the car in which she was traveling.