Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his nom de plume, Mark Twain was one of the most critically acclaimed and popular writers of our time. His vast
body of work spans multiple genres. Twain was able to accurately reflect the sensitive social issues of his day in a way that intimately touched his readers and often times caused great controversy. For this reason, much of Twain’s work has been restricted throughout the years. High schools across America banned what is arguably his most popular book, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, due to its frequent use of racial epithets. But despite his southern upbringing during the time of slavery, Twain was decidedly not a raciest. His books were a heartwarming and accurate reflection of his times, and his use of colloquialisms only added authenticity to his writing.
Book collectors have been adding Twain to their assemblage since 1885, when Leon & Brothers, rare book dealers from New York, devoted a catalog entirely to American authors, which included 13 of Twain’s first edition books. This solidified his place among the literary elite and he was soon flooded with requests for autographs.
When buying an autographed copy of any Mark Twain book, it’s especially important to verify the authenticity of the signature. Many of his books were massed produced and include a facsimile of his signature and endorsements. Unfortunately, less scrupulous dealers are inundating the marketing with these facsimiles and passing them off as authentic. Some sell for close to $1,000, when in reality, they are basically worthless versions. Books that one should be especially diligent in authenticating include Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Puddn’head Wilson, A Tramp Abroad and sets of the Complete Works of Mark Twain, as all of these were printed with facsimiles of his signature.
When collecting first editions of Mark Twain books, there are a few things to look for specifically. It is extremely important to find copies that are in fine condition. Books that look like new are in the most demand, but can be procured by those who look diligently. If you believe you are in procession of a first edition Mark Twain book, check the date on the title page, not the copyright date on the back title page. The two dates should be no more than a year off to validate the edition. Mark Twain’s first book, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, is one of the rarest of Mark Twain works with only 1,000 printed copies. There are a couple of interesting things that will help you determine if your copy is authentic. Page 198 of an 1867 version of the book has an “i” in the word “this” that should be perfect and unbroken. Also, the last line on page 66 includes the word “life” that should likewise be unbroken. All first issue, first printing include a “single leaf of ads on cream-yellow paper before the title page”, according to the Collected Books: The Guide to Identification and Values by Allen Ahearn, Patricia Ahearn. Extremely rare editions have the frog on the middle of the front cover, instead of the more common placement of the frog in the left corner.
Article written for Raptis Rare Books, http://www.raptisrarebooks.com