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    Mark Twain gains control of his first book

    Samuel Clemens "Mark Twain" Autograph Letter Signed to Publisher Elisha Bliss, Jr. One page on Clemens' personalized stationery, 4" x 5.25", Buffalo, 1870, with docket at top adding Dec 23rd. Penned to Twain's second publisher, this letter conveys the news that he paid $800 cash & forgave all royalties to buy the publishing rights to his first book. In full:

    I bought my Jumping Frog from Webb. - gave him what he owed me ($600.00), and $800 cash, & 300 remaining copies of the book, & also took $128 worth of free un-printed paper off his hands.

    I think of a Jumping Frog pamphlet (illustrated) for next Christmas -- do you want it?
    Ys Ever / Mark

    Twain was completely unaware that the royalties due him were far greater than he ever imagined. Mark Twain's first book, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County & Other Sketches, was compiled, edited, & published by his "friend" Charles Webb. A verbal agreement was made for Webb to take Mark Twain's scrapbooks of his own writings and compile them into a book. Twain was to receive 10% of the gross sales.

    Contemporary newspaper advertising reveals that Jumping Frog was published in April 1867, and that the first printing sold out by April 29th. The book received rave reviews, and word of mouth quickly spread. The second printing sold out two days later, and a third & fourth printing followed the next few days, which included a special railway edition bound in printed stout paper wrappers. The first paperback edition was only available at railway stations in New York City starting on May 8, but was quickly discontinued, never to be advertised again. The small window of time it was available combined with the very high fatality rate of paperbacks from this era are the reasons why this paperback edition is very rare and is unrecorded in any bibliography.

    Twain never learned about the instant sellout status of his book. A remarkable naiveté being that at this same time he was giving sold out lectures at the Cooper Institute in New York City. The lectures also received rave reviews which fueled demand for The Jumping Frog.

    Twain had preconceived notions that the book would be a failure, so he didn't bother to demand sales figures. His departure to the Holy Land aboard the Quaker City (from June 8, 1867 to November 19, 1867) made it even less likely he would learn of the truth about his success. Webb would never give Twain any accounting of sales, nor pay a single penny in royalties, despite the book staying in print until Twain finally purchased the rights in December 1870.

    After tasting the rewards of using a reputable publisher in 1869 for his second book The Innocents Abroad (getting regular accounts of sales & royalty checks), Mark Twain sought to reissue the Jumping Frog in pamphlet form for the Christmas market. Twain figured if he let Webb off the hook from paying any royalties that Webb would give Twain the publication rights in an even exchange. But Webb refused and Twain was forced to hire a lawyer. Webb had copyrighted the book in his own name, and was legally (if not ethically) entitled.

    When it came to the final negotiations in December 1870, Webb supplied a fictitious one page summary of the number of copies bound (implying alleged sales) of three books: two by Webb, and the Jumping Frog by Twain. Webb claimed each of his two books sold better than Twain's Jumping Frog. According to Webb's figures, one of Webb's books sold more copies in three months than Twain's Jumping Frog did in three years!

    This letter is Twain's official announcement of these details to his more trustworthy second publisher, Elisha Bliss, which also offers him the opportunity to publish the Jumping Frog story. An important manuscript recording a turning point in Twain's publishing career. In black ink, with vertical folds strengthened on verso, and several minute & unobtrusive pinholes. Light soiling, otherwise very good.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    October, 2009
    16th-17th Friday-Saturday
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