Happy Birthday, Mark Twain!: Rarest of Rare Collectibles

On his 70th birthday, Mark Twain gave a speech to friends gathered at Delmonico’s Restaurant. To mark the occasion, he noted that the age of 70 is “the time of life when you arrive at a new and awful dignity; when you may throw aside the decent reserves which have oppressed you for a generation and stand unafraid and unabashed upon your seven-terraced summit and look down and teach—unrebuked.”

On the same occasion, he joked about his very first birthday: “I always think of it with indignation; everything was so crude, unaesthetic, primeval. Nothing like this at all. No proper appreciative preparation made; nothing really ready. Now, for a person born with high and delicate instincts—why, even the cradle wasn’t whitewashed—nothing ready at all. I hadn’t any hair, I hadn’t any teeth, I hadn’t any clothes. I had to go to my first banquet just like that.”

It got better for Mr. Twain. He lived a long and happy-but-cranky life, very productive and much celebrated during his time.

Our South Lamar store in Austin, Texas let us know about two Twain treasures they have acquired; a couple of works that, for different reasons, were not issued by major publishers during his lifetime.

Fireside Conversation in 1601 at Ye Time of Queen Elizabeth
“Being Number One of the Airedale Series Privately Published,” 1925. $75.

firesideTwain was being a naughty fellow when he wrote this risqué tale, usually known as 1601, that is presented as the diary entries of one of Queen Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting. Due to its risqué nature, the author didn’t even acknowledge writing it until late in life, and most editions were privately printed. Allen and Patricia Ahearn count more than fifty small-print-run editions of this short Twain work, starting in 1880 and continuing until the 1960s, when obscenity laws were loosened.

This copy is number 14 of a limited edition of 500 copies. It has been rebound in leather and has a tape repair between the front free endpaper and the half-title.

Mark Twain’s Autobiography
2 volumes, Harper & Brothers, 1924. Stated First Edition. $500.


This first published version of Twain’s autobiography—actually a mountain of dictated ramblings taken down by a stenographer late in Twain’s life—was the idea of what one editor, Albert Bigelow Paine, thought was worth sharing. Twain had ordered that his autobiography not be published until 100 years after his death. When volume one of the whole thing was duly issued in 2010, it sold well but didn’t get a great critical reception. Our own era’s most similar great humorist, Garrison Keillor, wrote in his review of it that it was “a powerful argument for writers burning their own papers.”

This is a variant binding in ¾ leather. There’s some rubbing and bumping to the edges of all the boards and a small chip missing from the top of the spine of volume two, but the bindings are very sound and the text-block is immaculate.

Rarely-Known Trivia

Jumping-Off Point—Twain heard the tale that became his first published story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” in a bar frequented by miners still hanging on after the Gold Rush died down.

Pick a Side—Twain briefly served in the Confederate Army; the family of his wife Livy were abolitionists.

Anti-Imperialist—Twain was the vice-president of the American Anti-Imperialist League from 1901 until his death in 1910.

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