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Mark Twain

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Mark Twain

National Portrait Gallery

Mark Twain

National Portrait Gallery

Mark Twain [sculpture] / (photographer unknown)

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum
On photo mount label: G. Boyle. Mark Twain. bronze. 1950. Photographer: ? Classification number: 282B. Accession: 216878.

1 photographic print : b&w 9 3/8 x 7 1/2 in. (trimmed), mounted on 9 3/4 x 13 7/8 in. board.

Barnes and Noble: Mark Twain

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Picture of Mark Twain.

Mark Twain caricature self-portrait

Archives of American Art
1 artifact ; 14 x 08 cm., in leather folder 16 x 10 cm. Self-portrait is etched into a copper plate, which is fastened within a leather cover with ribbon ties.
Inscribed in plate beneath image: Done by truly yours, Mark Twain; N.B. I cannot make a good mouth, therefore leave it out; There is enough without it anyway; Done with the best ink, M.T.
Two handwritten notes are mounted within the leather enclosure. One is mounted on the top flap and reads, in pencil: M. Twain's 70th birthday dinner.
The other is affixed beneath the portrait and reads, in ink: John W. Alexander; I remember you well, sir! Mark Twain.
Outer leather cover is stamped in gilded letters: Mr. John W. Alexander.
This plate was given to Alexander and each of the 49 other guests as a souvenir at Twain's 67th birthday party at the Metropolitan Club in New York in November, 1902. Twain refers to the self-portrait in a Letter to the Editor in Harper's Weekly and in an article for Metropolitan magazine, 1903.
The image was published in Harper's Weekly, November 15, 1902.

Mark Twain: Cat Dad Extraordinaire

National Portrait Gallery
Black and white photograph of a man in a white suit petting a very small kitten

Happy 175th Birthday, Mark Twain

Smithsonian Magazine

Mark Twain Museum Battles Mold

Smithsonian Magazine

When the Mark Twain Museum opened in 2003, it was big news for Twain aficionados—and sustainability advocates. The state-of-the-art 35,000-square foot, $16.5 million complex, which was built next door to the Mark Twain House (where Samuel Clemens lived from 1874 to 1891) in Hartford, Connecticut, was the first LEED-certified museum in the United States, a designation bestowed on it by the Green Building Council.

But that pursuit of sustainability, while noble, has led to a big problem: difficulty with a geothermal system, and a leak in the roof, has led to a mold infestation. According to Cara Giaimo at Atlas Obscura, conservators found mold invading artifacts in the museum’s storage room in 2015. According to the Associated Press, the mold impacts at least 5,000 of the museum's 16,000 objects, including first editions of Twain’s books, furniture, metal, glass and leather items. 

The geothermal wells, which are used to moderate the temperature of the museum, pump groundwater, which maintains a nearly constant temperature year round, through a loop that warms the building in winter and pulls heat from the building in summer.  But Jacques Lamarre, former director of communication for the museum tells Dunne that the wells were problematic from the beginning and that the motors would break down regularly. At one point, the pipes in the mechanical room burst, flooding part of the museum's basement and auditorium. "The explosion of the geothermal well led to an increase in the humidity problem in the building at large because the decision was made to cap the wells instead of repairing them," he tells Dunne.

Mold remediation begins on February 13, and in three to four months, the museum should be squeaky clean. But the removal will come at a cost: Susan Dunne at The Hartford Courant reports that excising the mold will cost more than $1 million with the majority of the funds coming from the state with other contributions from the Hartford Foundation and the museum itself. “Because mold is damaging to artifacts, it is necessary to remove the mold spores from each of the affected artifacts as soon as possible in order to properly preserve the objects and ensure there is no new nor spreading growth of mold," the Hartford Foundation said in a statement, when awarding its grant. 

Last June, the museum deployed large dehumidifiers to the storage room, which reduced humidity enough to stop mold growth. They will be used as a backup if the heating and cooling system, which was recently repaired, fails again.

The Twain Museum is not the only institution battling mold and humidity. In fact, mold and other microorganisms are one of the biggest problems faced by historic buildings and museums. Conservators in Chile, for instance, are fighting to preserve the world’s oldest mummies from the Chinchorro culture, which are melting into black ooze because of recent increases in humidity.

Mark Twain's Cabin [photomechanical print]

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum
(Printed below image): Davis F. Schwartz / Mark Twain's Cabin / No. 2 / Copyright by International Art Publishing Company, Inc. / Made is U.S.A.

(Stamped and inscribed on back): Library of Congress / Copyright Entry Date Aug. 28/41 / K48608 / Accession No. 48150 / Division of Fine Arts / Schwartz, Davis F. / Mark Twain's Cabin.

The Library Mark Twain Built

Smithsonian Magazine

In the early evening of June 18, 1908, the 72-year-old American author and humorist Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, arrived in Redding, Connecticut, on a special express train. The celebrated writer had recently bought 195 acres of land in the idyllic New England town sight unseen and had commissioned a house there, telling the architect that he only wanted to see the finished product. Twain would later dub his southern Connecticut villa “Stormfield,” after the lead character from the short story he’d recently sold and which provided the funds for the extravagant home. Beth Dominianni, director of the Mark Twain Library in Redding, says: “The story goes that he pulled in, was greeted by the town dignitaries and then took a carriage to his house and people left him alone. He had privacy here.”

Twain took to his new hometown immediately. And with months of arriving, he came up with a way to make it even better: He formed the Mark Twain Library Association, and began fundraising to build a new library for Redding. Twain employed “amusing stratagems” to raise money, such as playing bellhop for his houseguests and hosting lively supper dances. He also asked wealthy friends and associates to donate money, including Andrew Carnegie, who gave $500 a year for several years. Twain even contributed his private funds to the cause, much of which came from the sale of the house and property he had once given to his daughter Jean. On Christmas Eve 1909, she had died as a result of an epileptic seizure, leaving Twain heartbroken and with property he no longer wanted.  

In mid-April 1910, Twain signed a check for the initial investment of $6,000 for the construction of the library. Days later, on April 21, 1910, he died at Stormfield with his daughter Clara by his side. Less than a year afterward, the Mark Twain Library in Redding, Connecticut, opened its doors to the public.

Today, the iconic writer’s legacy is still preserved in this small Connecticut town about 90 minutes northeast of New York City, mostly notably at the library that bears Twain’s name. While the original Stormfield burned down in 1923 (a similar mansion was later built on the same site), the library is still actively serving the Redding community. With folksy quotes from the author dotting the walls and artwork commemorating the man both inside and out, the library “is in many ways a tribute to Twain,” says Dominianni.

The library has several Twain artifacts, including his traveling writing desk, a billiard ball, a Bavarian clock and a self-pasting scrapbook. Dominianni explains, “[Twain] loved to do scrapbooking and took them everywhere with him. He got tired of the glue and paste, so he came up with the idea of printing thin strips of glue on to the pages … and he patented it as a self-pasting scrapbook. Apparently, it was his only invention that made him money.”

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Mark Twain Library are the more than 200 books that were once part of the writer’s own collection. The volumes range from Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey to H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds to books about history, philosophy and wildlife, and they show Twain’s eclectic tastes in literature. While seeing a great author’s library first-hand is fascinating in and of itself, the notes—or marginalia—that Twain left within the pages also provide a fascinating glimpse of his private thoughts.

The originals of these books are now behind glass at the library and require an appointment to see, but you don't need to read the original to experience a bit of Twain via his favorite books this summer. Of the 200-plus volumes at the library, several stand out for their historical significance, detailed marginalia and Twain's fondness for them. Here are five that once sat on Twain’s shelf, and would make great additions to any summer reading list: 

Mark Twain's First Story

National Museum of American History

Mark Twain [painting] / (photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son)

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Black-and-white study print (8x10).

Orig. negative: 8x10, Glass, BW.

Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain)

National Portrait Gallery
Using the pen name Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens had become one of this country's favorite satiric writers by the early 1870s, routinely making light of everyday human foibles. But it was the publication of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) that assured him a lasting place in American letters. Inspired in part by his own boyhood, these two tales set along the Mississippi River did more than capture the rhythms of youth in antebellum America. In both novels, Clemens examined with sardonic wit various tensions that underlay contemporary society, including, most importantly, the question of race. In later years, his success in this country and abroad was tempered by financial and personal setbacks and by a contempt for American and British imperialism.

Mark Twain Centenary Tablet [sculpture] / (photographed by De Witt Ward)

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum
On photo mount label: J. Flanagan. Mark Twain centenary tablet. Ownership unknown. Photographer: De Witt Ward. Classification number: 282/F. Accession: 160128. Lantern slide: E87770.

1 photographic print : b&w, 8 7/8 x 5 3/4 in. (trimmed), mounted on 9 3/4 x 13 7/8 in. board.

New Mark Twain Fairy Tale Unearthed

Smithsonian Magazine

There's a magical potential in archives—places where even something that’s been looked at by different eyes can come to life when it is truly recognized. That’s what just happened in the case of one of America’s most beloved authors. As Danuta Kean reports for The Guardian, a lost fairy tale by Twain has been unearthed in a U.C. Berkeley archive and will be published this year.

The fairy tale, entitled “The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine,” was told by Samuel Clemens (better known by his pen name, Mark Twain) to his children in 1879. Twain made 16 pages of notes about the story, which he wove while staying at a hotel in Paris with his children. But the fairytale languished in an archive for over a century, unknown and unseen.

Then John Bird came along. As The Daily Californian’s Fionce Siow reports, the Mark Twain scholar was rooting around U.C. Berkeley’s collection of Mark Twain papers on an unrelated hunt for “food-related items” when he discovered a document called “Oleomargarine.” In this case, it wasn’t the name of a cheap butter substitute. Rather, it was the name of a fairy-tale prince.

Bird made up an ending to the story, borrowed it from the archive, and started telling the tale to Twain enthusiasts around the country. “I was the first person to recognize it for what it was,” he told Siow: “an actual bedtime story [Twain] told his daughters.”

Now, the fleshed-out version of the story will be published at last in a book that will debut on September 26. Philip and Erin Stead—winners of a 2011 Caldecott Medal for their picture book A Sick Day for Amos McGee, completed and illustrated the story.

Since no other stories told by Clemens to his children have survived, the find was special indeed. It just goes to show that there’s always something new to learn about beloved authors, and that discoveries are often hiding in plain sight.

Mark Twain portrait, Face-to-Face talk

National Portrait Gallery
Frank Goodyear, curator at NPG, discusses Mark Twain

Archivists Are Uncovering Lost Mark Twain Stories

Smithsonian Magazine

Before he was Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens was a desperate young journalist with a problem: a witty voice in a profession that, at the time, looked down on humor writing. Now, The Guardian’s Nicky Woolf reports, that young man has come into clearer focus with the discovery and authentication of a 150-year-old stash of Clemens stories.

Woolf writes that archivists from the University of California, Berkeley’s Mark Twain Papers and Project are slowly analyzing the unsigned stories using digitized newspaper archives*. The project’s editor, Bob Hirst, tells Woolf that searching the archives was “like opening up a big box of candy.” Inside were several stories by Clemens, who wrote them while working at the San Francisco Chronicle’s predecessor, the San Francisco Dramatic Chronicle.

Archivists used Clemens’ distinctive voice to identify the unsigned stories, which they then verified by cross referencing the pieces with scrapbooks from the Twain family. The stories cover everything from a mining accident to the San Francisco police, writes Woolf. Hirst tells The Daily Californian’s Jamie Nguyen that Clemens took the job under duress — he fled Nevada, where he worked for another paper, after posting bail for a friend who was involved in a bar fight. Once in San Francisco, he wrote daily dispatches for the Nevada paper about life in San Francisco, sending them to the publication via stagecoach and supplementing his income with articles for the Chronicle.

The stories, which Hirst says include “the greatest clarity and the greatest humor that you could possibly imagine,” were written during a time of crisis for Clemens. Not only did he maintain a grueling pace as a writer, but he felt pressure to abandon his humorous writing style for more serious material. He even contemplated suicide, writes Woolf, telling his brother “If I do not get out of debt in three months — pistols or poison for one — exit me.” Clemens eventually turned his life around, embracing humor writing and living into old age as one of America’s most famous humorists.

*Correction: An earlier version of this story suggested that a cache of previously uknown stories had recently been uncovered. In fact, the work is part of an ongoing analysis project. We regret the error. 

You Can Write Inside Mark Twain’s Library

Smithsonian Magazine

Mark Twain, the famously prolific author assured other writers that “you need not expect to get your book right the first time.” But what if you have writer's block and need even more inspiration? As Inhabitat’s Nicole Jewell reports, you might find it at Mark Twain’s house, which recently opened up Twain’s library for use by writers.

The Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, now offers writers the chance to write inside Twain’s library for three-hour stretches. The house already offers a number of workshops and classes, but the chance to write uninterrupted in Samuel Clemens’ study is a rare one.

The lavish, Victorian-era library was one of the crowning features of Clemens’ home, which he lived in between 1874 and 1903. Inside, members of the family would recite poetry and Clemens would entertain guests with excerpts from his new works. But though it’s filled with literary spirit, it’s not where Clemens wrote his books.

Clemens was eager to move into his dream home despite construction delays, and recorded the progress of his study in letters to friends. “Day before yesterday, the most notable feature of the furniture for my study came at last,” he wrote in 1875, several months after he moved in. “But alas for human hopes and plans, I had to move out yesterday & write in a bedroom; & tomorrow I shall move my inkstand permanently into a corner of the billiard room. If ever the babies get beyond fretting & crying (the nursery adjoins the study), then I shall move back again.”

Clemens never left the billiard room; he liked the quiet and used the huge billiard table as a place to lay out his manuscripts. He wrote some of his most famous books there, including Adventures of Huckleberry Finn​ and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. But the book-lined space writers will have access to inside the historic house is just as inspiring. Writers can bring computers or paper inside for their work, though there’s no wifi and no power outlets. And pens are strictly forbidden. There’s another perk, too: Jewell notes that writers will be able to tour the house on their own during their miniature literary sojourn.

The chance to write in a historic home, let alone one associated with an American literary icon, is unusual. But it’s no opportunity for starving artists: a three-hour slot must be reserved in advance and costs $50. Then again, it might just be worth it for a chance to commune with Clemens in the house where he wrote some of the greatest works of American literature.

You Can Own Mark Twain's Connecticut Farmhouse

Smithsonian Magazine

In 1909, Samuel Clemens presented his daughter Jane Lampton  "Jean" Clemens with a sprawling farmhouse located on the corner of the writer's estate in Redding, Connecticut. As Sam Dangremond reports for Town & Country, “Jean’s Farm,” as the property is known, is now on the market for a cool $1.85 million.

The farmhouse, which was built in 1787, includes five bedrooms and three-and-a-half bathrooms. The home was gutted by its current owners in 2013, and according to the property's real estate listing, it now features a kitchen with “Cream Marfil marble counters, custom cabinetry, Gaggenau premium appliances,” and a “sumptuous” living room with “Carlisle hickory signature floors [and] antiqued ceiling beams.”

That certainly sounds nice, but the property has also retained some of its historic charms. According to Masha Angelova of Mansion Global, the new owners will inherit a barn that was built in 1860, and that was at one point used by Barnum & Bailey to store its circus elephants.

Before the barn housed pachyderms, it was beloved by Jean, who came to live with her father—who is best known by his pen name Mark Twain—soon after the construction of his Redding villa. (The author dubbed his new home “Stormfield” because it had been financed with profits from his book Extract from Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven.) According to the website of the Mark Twain Library, Jean was “delighted to find a farmhouse on the northeast corner of the estate” because she “dearly loved animals.”

Sadly, Jean’s new chapter in Redding was cut short. On Christmas Eve of 1909, the 29-year-old was found dead in a bathtub at Stormfield. The website of the Mark Twain House and Museum states that Jean likely died of a heart attack brought on by an epileptic fit.

Before his daughter's untimely death, Clemens had been hard at work raising money for a new pet project. He had gifted the town of Redding with more than 1,000 books, which were stored in an unused chapel, and the author hoped to build a permanent library to house his collection.  After Jean died, Clemens sold her farmhouse for $6,000 and put the funds towards the construction of the Jean L. Clemens Memorial Building—the first iteration of the Mark Twain Library.

Clemens did not live to see the opening of the institution that was named in his daughter's memory. He died of a heart attack in 1910, at the age of 74. In the author's New York Times obituary, Twain's biographer is quoted as saying that "all heart went out of him and his work when his daughter Jean died." 

Mark Twain portrait, Face-to-Face talk

National Portrait Gallery
Ben Click, Professor at St. Mary's College, discusses a portrait of Mark Twain by John White Alexander
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