Wed, 20 Mar 1996 10:42:39 -0500
Having read the post on the Twain autograph for sale at 160.00, allow me to
The commercial value of any Twain material is purely subjective. I have seen
advertised specimens of Twain's handwriting priced at a couple of thousand
dollars, never less. Does this mean that the item in question is a fraud?
Not necessarily. As a book dealer specializing in Twain, I try to keep
current on anything to do with him. This limits the time I can put forth in
researching anything in my general stock. Consequently, I have let go for
bargain prices books in other araes which would have fetched higher prices
had I been more knowledgeable or ambitious. The dealer in question may have
simply found this item or he may have purchased it from someone who had no
interest or knowledge of its potential value. Again, however, let me stress
the subjective nature of value. I have several first editions of Twain
material and recently sold a computer to a family the head of which is the
great-great-great-great-great-grand-nephew of Samuel Clemens. These people
had absolutely no interest in or knowledge of anything beyond the fact that
Twain wrote a couple of kids' books. To these people, 5.00 probably would
have been too much to pay for the autograph.
A handwriting expert may be called in to verify the authenticity of the
signature. But another way to check it out is to simply ask the dealer the
provenance of the item. A reputable dealer will provide a guarantee of
authenticity and if the autograph should ever prove to be a fraud will
gladly refund your money.
Several years ago my wife and I bought a table and two chairs from
Stormfield up in Redding based on the contents of the will of Harry Iles,
Twain's caretaker. We met the grandson of Iles who is in possession of a
postcard and a book from Twain to Iles. The will specifies what is to become
of the table and chairs, referred to as belonging to Mark Twain. We have not
found these items in any photographs and the curator of the Mark Twain House
in Hartford also has not been able to authenticate these pieces, although
she does say that they are pieces which would have been common to the
period. The grandson's assertion is that these pieces eventually found their
way from the house to an apartment up over the stables thus saving them from
the fire which destroyed Stormfield. All of that being said, the value of
the furniture is up to us. We enjoy having it and plan to continue to do so.
A purist, however, might find the stuff useful only as kindling.
Would I advise you to buy it? Only if the dealer can offer you some
assurance that it is the real thing. He will not be insulted if you ask for
This was supposed to be brief. Please excuse me for rambling.
...and so there ain't nothing more to write about, and I am rotten glad of it...
Marcus W. Koechig
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