Ten Years Ago: MARK TWAIN REDUX
I am saddened to report that in the last 10 years, two important Twain collectors have passed away, as have a number of major Mark Twain scholars, and I will discuss the impact of their passing. On a happier note, some bibliographical discoveries have been made, and some wonderful new books about Twain have appeared since 1998, and I will report on those as well. Finally, values of Mark Twain first editions have risen steadily, often dramatically, and I will have something to say about this. It's been an eventful decade in Twain studies and collecting, so let's get started.
The broader social and economic effects of the Internet are beyond the scope of this article, but the specific effects of the Net on book collecting deserve some attention in order to put into proper context the effect the Net has had on Mark Twain collecting. As buyers and sellers of books have migrated online, the nature of the book market has profoundly changed. The more books that have appeared online, the more visible the entire book market has become (or so it seems), with the result that the most common books seem even more common than ever, and the very rarest books seem rarer than ever. For books that fall somewhere between these two extremes, the effects are less extreme. Some books appear even more common than they are because a seller might choose to list the same book more than once or in several venues at the same time, causing confusion among buyers who do not read descriptions carefully enough to recognize the same book when it appears several times in their search results. Likewise, some books may appear rarer than they really are simply because dealers selling such books choose not to list them online for various reasons.
For these reasons, the "visible market" of the Internet is an illusion, where much is not visible and things that are visible are not exactly what they seem. Still, the impact of this perceived market is no illusion. Values of common books have fallen, with books at the bottom of the market falling the furthest, and values of rarer books have risen, with those at the high-end of the market rising fastest.
The values of Mark Twain's books have mirrored this general trend. Rough copies of Twain's most common titles have always been readily available and barely worth collecting. They are commonly offered online, and their values have been stagnant, or even been deflating as a result. Conversely, fine copies of Twain's rarer works seldom appear in the market and even less often online, and their values have risen considerably. The Net has also created a vision, also illusory, of what Adam Smith long ago postulated as the classical efficient market, where unimpeded direct trade can take place between primary sellers or producers of goods and the ultimate consumers of those goods, with no pesky middleman getting in the way. Of course, Smith envisioned communities of small business owners doing business with each other, face to face, each with a vital interest in the health of their community as a whole. Smith did not envision the Internet, which does not fit by any stretch of the imagination the definition of a community with shared interests or economic goals. But to the extent that an efficient market exists on the Net, for the book trade this means that someone who discovers a rare book stashed away in some corner of a chicken coop could dust it off, list it for sale online, and quickly sell it for top dollar to a zillionaire book collector trolling for rare books from his laptop while lounging by the swimming pool on his yacht. The lure of this theoretical model prompts a lot of folks, only a handful of them fresh from their chicken coops or pool sides, to visit online auction sites like eBay, to buy and sell various goods. But truth be told, many of the sellers in these venues are middlemen who troll garage sales or online listing services, and many of the buyers are merchants as well, who buy for resale. That "efficient market" most often occurs in the selling and buying of routine garage sale-type goods, and happens far less often when the goods in question are rare books.
Chicken coops seldom yield rare books that would appeal to fellows lounging on yachts, and even if a chicken coop does give up a treasure now and then, the odds are that the owner will have no idea what he's found, how best to authenticate it, or even how to describe it properly, and the fellow on the yacht may not trust a seller he does not know and cannot see, and may not have the full expertise needed to protect himself. In situations like this, the expertise of a seasoned bookseller adds value to a transaction. On the other hand, it's a safe bet that a mother listing her child's outgrown baby clothing for sale can readily sell it to another mom with a younger child; no “middlemom” is needed to facilitate or add value or expertise to this transaction--unless the clothing has been subject to a recall because of a choking or fire hazard. But for every single extraordinary occasion when all the stars align and a chicken coop guy and a yacht fellow actually do connect and do business, there are truckloads of baby clothing being sold, and tons of books with live mildew and duct-tape repairs and missing pages finding new homes. Hope springs eternal on all sides, and bargains can be found, even if the parties involved don't quite fit the profiles of my sunburned chicken farmer (primary seller) and well-tanned yachtsman (final consumer). But it is not without considerable risks.
No discussion of the Internet can fail to mention the widespread fraud that exists in a multitude of forms. The Net has made fraud easier than ever before, and online auctions seem to have the nastiest concentration of scams of every kind. One common kind of fraud is the use of images of items other than the one actually being sold, or when the seller actually has nothing to sell at all. Images of rare books can easily be cut and pasted from websites (e-watermarks can be erased). Scammers frequently pose as buyers and request scans of rare books from booksellers which they then load online, misrepresenting them as their own property for sale. It is very common for rare books to be grossly misrepresented, sometimes intentionally and other times because of sloth or ignorance. It's often very difficult to tell which, since scammers have quickly learned to pose as ignorant sellers unwittingly offering bargains. (More than a few online offerings begin with "I done no nuthing bout ole books, but...") Sellers often use fake identities and credentials, registering at online auction sites using false names and addresses and dummy phone numbers, and making fanciful claims about their expertise and backgrounds. Shill bidding by sellers using multiple user IDs to place bids on their own items is commonplace, and a recent change by eBay to disguise the user IDs of buyers has made it impossible for buyers to detect shill bidding on eBay.
There is also a widespread problem with stolen descriptions. Most booksellers' written descriptions are protected by copyright. While the information in a description cannot be copyrighted, the expression of that information is protected intellectual property. Unfortunately, this does not discourage some online sellers from copying substantial portions or entire descriptions written by others. These descriptions may not even correctly apply to the book the description thief is offering for sale, but that does not matter. Description thieves steal the fruits of others' labors to make themselves appear to have more expertise than they really possess. Description thievery can also lead to confusion among buyers, who may recognize the real author of a description and incorrectly assume that the book in question once passed through the hands of the more knowledgeable and trustworthy bookseller whose description was stolen. Some buyers will even assume that the book is co-owned by the description thief and the expert whose description was stolen. Finally, the most widespread form of online book fraud is fakes and forgeries. Facsimile and book club dust jackets find their way onto genuine first editions, first edition text blocks are recased into later edition bindings, and title pages migrate from tatty first editions to pristine reprints. The subject of autograph forgeries could fill an entire issue of this magazine. Suffice it to say that books that are merely signed by an author, but not inscribed, should be viewed with extra caution, and anything offered with a certificate of authenticity (the ubiquitous "COA") should be viewed with extreme caution. And if the COA has a gold seal or colorful ribbon, take a very deep breath indeed.
I've witnessed an endless parade of online sellers of Mark Twain material who routinely offer fake and forged materials. At any given time, several Mark Twain fakes or forgeries are being offered for sale on eBay, often finding innocent buyers in search of bargains. My favorite Mark Twain forger on eBay is a fellow whose autograph forgeries are all on the same brown paper and in the same blue ink: Mark Twain, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and the Three Stooges (who all had identical handwriting). I have discovered online sellers of Mark Twain material who falsely claim to be professors, researchers, experts, etc. I have been shown Mark Twain books purchased online that have been cleverly tarted up to look like first editions by recasings and replaced pages. My own descriptions of Mark Twain books have been stolen countless times, and some of these online fraudsters have even selectively "borrowed" portions of my 1998 Mark Twain articles to bolster their bogus claims.
My advice in 2008 is exactly the same as it was in 1998. First, arm yourself with a good reference shelf; the information you find on the Internet is no substitute for a reference library. Second, seek advice from (and patronize) well-established booksellers; the anonymity of the Net allows fraudsters to become cybersellers and portray themselves as trusted and expert sources of information. With a little caution and common sense, and a healthy dose of skepticism, collecting Mark Twain on the Internet can be rewarding.
Finally, although the Net is no substitute for a good reference book or two or three, there are some reliable and useful Mark Twain websites that every Twainian should know about. The websites for the three major Mark Twain tourist destinations (Elmira, Hannibal and Hartford) are easily found, but there are many things to do and see in each place if you can travel and visit them in person. In Elmira, Mark Twain's octagonal study is preserved on the campus of Elmira College, where a fine collection of Mark Twain materials is also housed. The famous Finger Lakes region is nearby. In Hannibal, Mark Twain's boyhood home is open as a museum and filled with unforgettable artifacts including Mark Twain's Oxford robes. The famous "Becky Thatcher Home" is just across the street. At nearby Florida, Missouri, Mark Twain's log cabin birthplace is preserved in a museum filled with equally wonderful artifacts, including his carriage. In Hartford, Mark Twain's iconographic "steamboat" style home is beautifully restored with many original furnishings and is open to the public. A new exhibit center behind the home displays a portion of their huge collection of Mark Twain artifacts. The Mark Twain Memorial in Hartford is in serious financial trouble at the moment, with millions of dollars in debt and an uncertain future, and Twainians are hoping against hope that their problems will be happily resolved, perhaps with the state of Connecticut or the National Park Service taking over finances and operations.
When you can't visit one of these Mark Twain locales, you can still browse the three most useful Mark Twain websites. I mentioned the Mark Twain Forum in my 1998 articles, and twainweb.net is the website for that scholarly listserv. This site contains the archives of the listserv, reviews of new Twain scholarship, links to other Twain resources, and links to the Mark Twain Circle and the Mark Twain Journal. Twainquotes.com is the brainchild of Twain scholar Barbara Schmidt, and is an extremely useful source of articles, links, resources, quotes and extensive indexes to Twain's first appearances in many rare newspapers. It comes very close to one-stop shopping for Twain information online. Http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/MTP/databases.html is the website for the Mark Twain Papers, where Twain's surviving papers and estate came to rest in the Bancroft Library at University of California. Besides exhibits and publications, this website is the portal to their database of letters to and from Mark Twain.
A History of Twain Collecting, An Update
In 1998, I gave a brief history of Twain collecting, beginning in 1885 when Leon & Brothers issued the first American rare book catalogue to include Mark Twain's works. Since 1998, the most notable events in Twain collecting have been the passing of two passionate Twain collectors, Nick Karanovich and Verne Roberts.
Nick Karanovich was both a longtime friend and a friendly competitor. He began collecting in the mid-1960s, and formed a collection of more than 3,000 items, including first editions, autograph letters, photographs, ephemera and even coffee mugs and T-shirts. Nick passed away in 2003 at the age of 64, shortly after retiring as a school principal, but before he was able to accomplish his goal of cataloging his entire collection. Nick generously loaned his materials for exhibits and shared images of items with scholars who needed illustrations for their publications, and it was widely and erroneously presumed that his collection would eventually go en bloc to an institution. About 700 of the very best things in Nick's collection were catalogued into 248 lots and sold at Sotheby's a few months after Nick's passing. I purchased between 15 and 20 percent of what was sold at auction, and purchased the other 2,500 items in his collection directly from his family. I kept about 300 items for my personal collection (which numbers between 6,000 and 8,000 items, the largest Twain collection in private hands, and the source of the illustrations in my 1998 articles) and sold the rest by private quote and through a 700-item catalogue (now OP). Just as Nick wished, his Mark Twain books and materials have found new homes in other collections. Nick had as much fun collecting as any book collector I have known, and if he ever had a single regret I don't know what it would have been, except that he could not attend his own sale and start collecting all over again.
Verne Roberts was also a longtime friend and gentlemanly competitor. He began collecting Mark Twain in the 1980s. Verne had no interest in autographs, but focused instead on first editions, first printings of Twain's writings in newspapers and magazines, and ephemera. He was also a member of the Miniature Book Society. He assembled an unsurpassed collection of Mark Twain miniature books, and compiled a useful checklist of all known Twain miniatures that was published in the Society's journal. Verne was an engineer who co-patented one of the very first child car seat restraint systems (the basic design that is still in use today) and published a product safety newsletter for many years before his death in 2007 at the age of 67. A terminally ill Verne and his wife met with me very shortly before his death, and I purchased his entire collection of more than 700 items, most of which were sold by private quote and a catalogue. Verne kept his Twain books in what he called his A.T.F. room (where he also kept his alcohol, tobacco and firearms). I remember Verne fondly every time I buckle my granddaughter into her car seat.
The Mark Twain scholarly community lost some dear friends and brilliant minds who made major contributions to what we know about Twain today. Cyril Clemens, a distant cousin of Mark Twain and longtime editor of the Mark Twain Quarterly (now the Mark Twain Journal) died in 1999. Born in 1902, he met Twain in September, 1908 when his father, James Ross Clemens, took his wife and son along on a visit to Stormfield. Cyril loved to tell the story of how he'd noticed the cats that were always a part of Twain's household. He asked Twain if there was anything better than a cat, to which Twain immediately replied, "Two cats." Edgar Branch, whose first Twain publication appeared in 1942, and who became the recognized authority on Twain's early career, passed away in 2006 at age 93. Guy Cardwell, who wrote an iconoclastic biography of Twain, died in 2005 at age 99. Everett Emerson, author of two excellent Twain biographies, died in 2002 at the age of 77. Hamlin Hill, an influential scholar whose biography of Mark Twain's last 10 years created a sensation in the 1970s, passed away in 2002 at age 70. Charles Neider, editor of several popular compilations of Twain's published works, died in 2001 at age 86. Edward Wagenknecht, best known in Mark Twain circles for his 1935 biography of Twain, passed away in 2004 at age 104. Just this year, Jim Zwick, widely admired for his wonderful Mark Twain website (now shut down) and his studies of Twain's anti-Imperialist writings, passed away at the early age of 51. I knew all these scholars except Wagenknecht, and purchased some of their libraries. They set examples for the Mark Twain scholarly community today, with their generosity, wit and intellectual enthusiasm. Most of these men were of that generation of Mark Twain scholars who knew people who'd met or personally known Twain, and their passing marks the end of an era.
Recent Scholarly Works
In my 1998 articles I included a selection of scholarly publications on Mark Twain. The Mark Twain scholarly "industry" has accelerated in the last decade, if anyone even thought that was possible. Space does not allow the inclusion of every interesting or noteworthy book on Twain that has appeared, so this is a representative selection. Those eagerly awaiting the promised and much needed updated editions of Tom Tenney's Reference Guide (1977) and Alan Gribben's Mark Twain's Library (1980) will have to wait a wee bit longer. They are still in progress.
Bird, John. Mark Twain and Metaphor. Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press  A complex study of a complex subject, and not for the faint of heart or mind. Bird shows how Twain's sometimes bold and more often subtle uses of figurative language create a linguistic texture that adds layers of meaning to his writings, enhances his multiple voices, and denotes his divided narratives. Bird draws upon both major and minor works.
Budd, Louis J., ed. Mark Twain, The Contemporary Reviews. [Cambridge:] Cambridge University Press  This 656-page volume collects the major contemporary reviews of Twain's works (with checklists of the many minor reviews), all written as his books were being published, and reflecting the reception of his works by his reading public. Among Twain’s reviewers were fellow authors and friends such as William Dean Howells, Bret Harte, Joel Chandler Harris, Lafcadio Hearn, Brander Matthews, Hamlin Garland, H. L. Mencken, Charles Dudley Warner and Israel Zangwill. Seeing firsthand what Twain's contemporaries thought of his writings makes for fascinating reading.
Camfield, Gregg. The Oxford Companion to Mark Twain. [Oxford and New York:] Oxford University Press, 2003. This thick (768-page) reference guide to Twain studies is of special interest to collectors for its massive bibliography of first printings of Twain's works in magazines and newspapers. This bibliography was online for a brief time, and the hope is that it will again become available online and be regularly updated.
Dempsey, Terrell. Searching for Jim, Slavery in Sam Clemens's World. Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press . The author is a Hannibal attorney who used newly discovered sources (as well as previously ignored sources) that demonstrate Twain's close association with the institution of slavery and the slaves themselves in his early life, giving scholars a fresh perspective on how this influenced his later writings.
Fanning, Philip Ashley. Mark Twain and Orion Clemens. Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press . The traditional view of Twain's relationship with his older brother has been that of a successful author endlessly frustrated by his efforts to help a hopelessly incompetent buffoon, but this book throws new light on the relationship and paints a more complex and accurate portrait of both men.
Hoffmann, Donald. Mark Twain in Paradise. Columbia and London: University of Missouri . Twain's attraction to Bermuda began with his first visit in 1867, when he was returning home from the Quaker City excursion, and ended with his last trip in 1910, immediately before his death, and involved several visits in between. This book fleshes out Twain's relationship with this island getaway.
Lystra, Karen. Dangerous Intimacy. Berkeley: University of California Press  This account of Twain's final years examines the same time period and events that Hamlin Hill described in his book Mark Twain, God's Fool, but with a very different conclusion. Hill's evidence pointed to Twain as a raging Lear-like figure, but Lystra, using new and old evidence including the diaries of Twain's secretary, Isabel Lyon, and his daughter Jean, sheds startling new light on the tangled relationships that nearly strangled the Twain household at the end.
Mac Donnell, Kevin. “Stormfield, A Virtual Tour.” Mark Twain Journal. 44:1/2 (Spring/Fall, 2006). Oh good golly! What's this doing in a distinguished list like this? While much is known about Twain's life at his last home, very little has been published about the physical home itself, which burned down in the 1920s. This double issue of the Journal takes the reader on a tour of the home, using more than 40 photographs from the author's collection (over half of which were previously unpublished), along with the original floor plans marked to show where each photo was taken, replicating the spatial presence of this home that is otherwise lost to history.
Messent, Peter, and Louis J. Budd. A Companion to Mark Twain. [Malden, Massachusetts:] Blackwell Publishing . A collection of 35 essays by the leading Twain scholars of today on a broad range of subjects, ably reflecting the current state of Mark Twain studies.
Ober, Patrick. Mark Twain and Medicine. Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press . The first full-length study of Mark Twain's attitudes and treatment of health and medicine in his writings and within his family. A superb study written by a physician, and full of surprising insights. The full review I wrote about this book can be found in the Mark Twain Forum archives.
Powers, Ron. Mark Twain, A Life. [New York:] Free Press . Perhaps the most readable, enjoyable, and trustworthy biography of Twain ever written. Powers is a Pulitzer Prize and Emmy Award-winning author, best known for FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS. This is his second book on Twain, and he's also written two books on Twain's hometown of Hannibal. The full review I wrote about this book can be found in the Mark Twain Forum archives.
Quirk, Tom. Mark Twain and Human Nature. Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press . This thought-provoking study traces the evolution of Twain's preoccupation with human nature, the maturing of his social and moral outlook, and his growing deterministic attitude toward mankind, from the beginning of his career to the end. It draws upon both his major and minor writings, and discusses the various influences of W.E.H. Lecky, Charles Darwin, William James and others on Twain's thought.
Rasmussen, R. Kent. Mark Twain, A Literary Reference to His Life and Work. [New York:] Facts on File . This two-volume set is an expansion and revision of Rasmussen's much admired, essential and encyclopedic reference work, Mark Twain, A-Z. Every Twainian should own a copy.
Scharnhorst, Gary, ed. Mark Twain, the Complete Interviews. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press . At 719 pages and with 258 interviews, this compilation weighs in as the most exciting Twain first edition to appear in many years. Twain's letters, speeches and writings reflect several of his literary voices, but in interviews he is sometimes caught with his guard down or his dander up, and these add a new dimension to the voice we all thought we knew. The full review I wrote about this book can be found in the Mark Twain Forum archives.
Trombley, Laura E. Skandera, and Michael J. Kiskis, eds. Constructing Mark Twain. Columbia and London: University of Missouri . Inspired by the challenge of Hamlin Hill's famous 1974 essay “Who Killed Mark Twain?”, the editors solicited essays from leading Twain scholars that might break the mold created by Van Wyck Brooks and Bernard DeVoto that has framed—even frozen—Twain studies for nearly 100 years. In my 1998 articles I briefly described the Brooks/DeVoto controversy, debated by scholars ever since, arguing whether Twain was a failed literary artist or a writer tortured or obsessed by dualities and the split personalities of his public and private personas. This old approach has often served to oversimplify a complex writer and personality, and these essays are a refreshing shift in several new directions.
Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. The 1988 scholarly text of Twain's masterpiece needed revision after the long-lost first half of the original manuscript was discovered in 1990 and soon reunited with the second half. This scholarly text reunites the original published text with the entire manuscript, professionally edited by Victor Fischer and Lin Salamo.
Ward, Geoffrey C., Dayton Duncan, and Ken Burns. Mark Twain. New York: Alfred Knopf, 2001. This heavily illustrated volume is based on Ken Burns' lengthy, but slightly flawed, film about Twain's life. Shortly after the documentary aired, Twain scholars began compiling a list of factual errors (about 30 at last count), but this book is worth having for its 275 illustrations.
The Primary First Editions, A Bibliographical and Market Update
As mentioned earlier, values of Mark Twain first editions have climbed in the last 10 years and, like much of the rest of the book market, the rarer, more expensive, first editions have climbed the highest. There has never been a shortage of second-rate copies of common books, and badly repaired or dishonestly restored books, and it should be pointed out that the values I give here are for books in their original bindings in fine or near fine condition.
For further comments about condition when dealing with Nineteenth-century books, see my 1998 articles. Likewise, I have not repeated here any details on bindings and bibliographical points from my original 1998 list of primary first editions.
The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Stories. New York: C. H. Webb, 1867. In 1998, repaired copies of the first issue were selling for less than $4,000, better copies were fetching up to $8,000, and fine copies could be had for $12,000 to $18,000. These days, fine copies are very difficult to find, and are bringing $40,000 to $60,000. Repaired copies can still be had for under $10,000, and other copies bring somewhere in between. Second issue copies that fetched $1,000 to $3,000 in 1998, depending on condition, now fetch $1,500 to $4,500.
There is exciting bibliographical news to report on this book. When the book was published, it was advertised in New York in both cloth and printed wrappers, but no copy had ever been found in wrappers. In February, 2003 an English bookseller found a copy of the second issue in the wrapper binding and brought it to a west coast book fair where it was sold to a California bookseller who quickly sold it to a collector. I examined that copy before the sale. It was missing the rear wrapper and the front wrapper was torn in half with a crude tape repair, but it is the only copy known in wrappers. It changed hands again a couple of years later for less than it fetched in 2003.
The Innocents Abroad. Hartford: American Publishing Co., 1869. Fine first issue copies that fetched $2,000 or more in 1998 will now fetch $6,000 or more, but are seldom encountered. But average copies that used to fetch up to $1,500 have doubled or tripled in value as well. Later issues that fetched up to $300 in 1998 have doubled in value.
Mark Twain's (Burlesque) Autobiography and First Romance. New York: Sheldon & Co. . Fine cloth copies of the first state that fetched up to $200 10 years ago now bring $500, and first state copies in wrappers that fetched up to $300 now bring $600. Just as in 1998, second state copies in cloth or wrappers bring about half those figures.
Roughing It. Hartford: American Publishing Co., 1872. First state copies have doubled in value from $1,250 to $2,500, and second state copies have moved from $400 to $600. Second state copies and first state copies in average condition have not quite doubled in value.
The Gilded Age, A Tale of To-day. Hartford: American Publishing Co., 1873. Nice copies of this book with the rarely seen repeated lines at pages 351-53 were fetching $2,000 and up 10 years ago, but have tripled in value since. Other copies with mostly early states but without the repeated lines have moved from the $500 to $1,500 range into the $1,000 to $2,500 range. Later state copies in nice shape can still be found for a few hundred dollars.
A new bibliographical point has surfaced for this book, but is not terribly significant. At pages 140-41, the last line on page 140 is repeated at the top of page 141 in the earliest state. This error was soon corrected by either a cancel (evidenced by a stub at the gutter) or replacement of the entire gathering (see my 1998 comments on the issue points in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for more information on such cancels). Like the other early states of this text, this error is present in every copy I have examined with the repeated lines intact at pages 351-53. In copies with the repeated lines corrected at pages 351-53, this error has also usually been corrected by a cancel of the offending leaf or the entire gathering, but I have also found it uncorrected in a few copies that have the repeated lines at pages 351-53 corrected, indicating that this particular point is no more or less important than the other early state points on other pages in the text. The sign of an early copy, regardless of title page date, is still the repeated lines at pages 351-53.
Mark Twain's Sketches, Number One. New York: American News Co. . Copies in the first state once fetched $1,000 with second state copies bringing about half that. Those values have nearly doubled.
Mark Twain's Sketches, New and Old. Hartford: American Publishing Co., 1875. First state copies used to bring $500 or more, and second state copies about half that much. These days, first state copies bring $2,000, and second state copies bring $400 or more.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Hartford: American Publishing Co., 1876. Fine first printing copies of this book could be had for $10,000 to $15,000 in 1998, but will cost $40,000 to $65,000 now if you can find one. The second or third printing, once easily obtainable for $2,000 in nice shape, will now cost $4,000 to $6,000.
A True Story and the Recent Carnival of Crime. Boston: James R. Osgood and Co., 1877. This little pocket-size book has always been quite scarce, and copies that once would have cost $2,000 will fetch twice that figure now.
Punch, Brothers, Punch! and Other Sketches. New York: Slote, Woodman & Co. . In 1998, the first printing could be had for $600 in wrappers, or half that in cloth. Those numbers have doubled. The second issue fetched $300 in wrappers or $150 in cloth 10 years ago, but those numbers have not quite doubled.
A Tramp Abroad. Hartford: American Publishing Co., 1880. Fine first state copies have gone from $500 to $1,500, and second state copies that used to cost $150 to $300 have moved into the $200 to $450 range.
Conversation as It Was by the Social Fireside in the Time of the Tudors. [Cleveland: Alexander Gunn, 1880]. This 1880 "edition" (actually a proof, of which four copies were struck) is still unobtainable. Before 1998, no copies of the virtually unobtainable 1882 West Point edition had fetched more than $15,000, but that barrier fell fast and hard into the distance with an auction and a private sale in the early 2000s. This is now a $50,000 book, but you must first find one for sale.
The Prince and the Pauper, A Tale for Young People. Boston: James R. Osgood and Co., 1882. Fine first states could be had for $500 once upon a time, but will now run $1,500 or more. Later state copies, once $150 to $400, have doubled in value.
I neglected to mention in my 1998 articles that along with unsold sheets of other Osgood publications like Life on the Mississippi and The Stolen White Elephant, Charles W. Webster also obtained sheets of The Prince and the Pauper and reissued them with cancel title pages with his own imprint in 1885 and 1887.
The Stolen White Elephant. Boston: James R. Osgood and Co., 1882. Prices on this book have doubled since 1998, from $300 to $600 for fine copies, and from $200 to $400 for very good ones. But junky copies of this title are common and are still readily available for under $100.
Life on the Mississippi. Boston: James R. Osgood and Co., 1883. Copies in the first state that once cost $600 have tripled in value, and copies of the second state that were once $200 have tripled in price.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Charles L. Webster and Co., 1885. Fine first printings of this book in leather or in blue cloth were in the market in 1998 for $5,000, and green copies could be had for $3,000. These days, the leather and blue cloth copies can fetch $30,000 or more, and green cloth copies will bring $8,000 and up. Copies in average (or even hideous) condition are common, and comprise the vast majority of copies that are being offered these days. They should (but don't always) have much lower prices attached to them.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. New York: Charles L. Webster and Co., 1889. Fine first state copies that once commanded $500 or more, now bring $2,000 or more, and second state copies that once fetched $300 have doubled in value.
The American Claimant. New York: Charles L. Webster and Co., 1892. Fine copies that could always be had for less than $200 will cost only a bit more than $200 now, and very good copies still bring half the price of fine ones.
The $1,000,000 Bank Note and Other Stories. New York: Charles L. Webster and Co., 1893. Fine copies that once commanded $200 and very good copies once worth half that, are now worth $350 and $175.
Tom Sawyer Abroad. New York: Charles L. Webster and Co., 1894. Fine copies once brought $500 and up and now bring $800 or more. Very good copies are what are usually seen and have moved from $150 to $250.
The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson and The Comedy of Those Extraordinary Twins. Hartford: American Publishing Co., 1894. Fine copies have doubled in value from $300 to $600 or more. Even very good copies have doubled in value from $200.
Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1896. Fine copies, seldom seen, now bring $600 or more, up from $300 10 years ago. But most copies have some fading or dull spine gilt and bring a third as much.
Tom Sawyer Abroad, Tom Sawyer Detective, and Other Stories. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1896. This book has quadrupled from $2,500 to $10,000 or more, and fine copies are quite rare. As I mentioned in 1998, the first printing is dated 1896 on the title page. The undated reprint is common and worth just a few dollars.
How to Tell a Story and Other Essays. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1897. Fine copies were running $300 10 years ago, but will cost double that now.
Following the Equator, A Journey Around the World. Hartford: American Publishing Co., 1897. Fine copies in cloth have doubled from $300 to $600, and leather copies have moved from the $500-to-$600 range into the $1,000-to-$2,000 range. Average copies of this book are common and readily available for under $200.
The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories and Essays. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1900. Copies of the first state that once sold for $300 now cost $600, and second state copies have moved up slightly from $150.
A Double-barreled Detective Story. New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1902. Copies that once fetched $200 in nice shape now bring $300, but average copies are still available for under $200.
My Debut as a Literary Person. Hartford: American Publishing Co., 1903. This volume has moved from the $150 to $250 range into the $250 to $350 range, depending on the edition formats which I described in 1998.
A Dog's Tale. New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1904. Fine copies that once fetched $100 bring $150 or more now. Copies in jackets that once fetched $600 will bring over $1,500 now.
Extracts From Adam's Diary. New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1904. The price ranges for this book have moved exactly like those for A Dog's Tale.
King Leopold's Soliloquy. Boston: P. R. Warren Co., 1905. The first printing, once a $600 book, will fetch $1,500 or more now, but the various later "issues" can still be had for under $400.
Eve's Diary. London and New York: Harper & Brothers, 1906. As with some of the other post-1900 Harper titles, this book has moved from $100 to $150 or more, and copies in jackets that once sold for $600 will bring $1,500 these days.
What is Man? New York: Printed at the DeVinne Press, 1906. This book, once fetching $1,000 or more, now brings $2,500 when it can be found. The 1910 first trade edition that once sold for $250 will cost $400, and the 1917 American trade edition will bring $250 instead of $150, and in a jacket will now fetch $1,000 instead of $500.
The $30,000 Bequest and Other Stories. New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1906. Fine copies of the first state were worth $250 in 1998 and bring $400 now. Second state copies can still be had for $200 or less.
Christian Science with Notes Containing Corrections to Date. New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1907. Fine first state copies have moved up from $200 to $300, and second state copies can still be found for $100 or less.
A Horse's Tale. New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1907. Copies that were worth $150 in 1998 are worth $250 now, and copies in dust jackets that would have brought $500 then will bring $1,500 now.
Is Shakespeare Dead? From My Autobiography. New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1909. Fine copies that once fetched $150 bring just $200 now, but copies in jackets have moved from $400 to $1,000.
Extract from Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven. New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1909. Fine copies that once fetched $150 have moved up to $200, but copies in jackets have moved from $600 to $1,500.
Queen Victoria's Jubilee. [New York: Privately Printed for Private Distribution Only, 1910]. This book that once could be had for $800 will cost $1,500 in fine condition these days.
In 1998, the publication date of this volume was uncertain, but I have since uncovered a letter from bookseller James F. Drake dated January 24, 1910 that describes this as a recently published book, fixing the publication date in late 1909 or January, 1910. I am still investigating other evidence that seems to indicate that bookseller and early Twain bibliographer Merle Johnson printed this book with the intent of making it appear to have been published much earlier, a creepy echo of the forgery antics of the infamous Thomas J. Wise.
Mark Twain's Speeches. New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1910. Copies that sold for $150 in 1998 will sell for $250 now, and copies in jackets have moved from $400 to more than $1,000.
The Mysterious Stranger, A Romance. New York and London: Harper & Brothers . Fine copies of the first printing, which are hard to find, have increased in value from $200 to $400 or more. Later reprints are still easy to find, and often masquerade as first printings.
Mark Twain's Letters. New York and London: Harper & Brothers . The trade editions that once could be had for $150 will bring $250 now, but are not often found in fine unfaded condition. The limited edition has increased from $350 to $750.
The Curious Republic of Gondour and Other Whimsical Sketches. New York: Boni & Liveright, 1919. Fine copies that once fetched $100 will fetch $150 now, and copies in jackets have doubled in value from $300 to $600.
Europe and Elsewhere. New York and London: Harper & Brothers . Fine copies can still be had for $100 or less, and copies in jackets have moved from $300 to $750.
Mark Twain's Autobiography. New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1924. This set can still be found for $100 or less, but copies in jackets have doubled from $200 to $400, and copies in the box now bring $800.
Mark Twain's Notebook. New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1935. Fine copies have moved from $100 to $150, and copies in jackets have doubled from $200 to $400.
***This article first appeared in Firsts Magazine and was reprinted with their permission and that of the author’s