Often referred to as “the father of American literature”, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, or Mark Twain as the world now knows him, published a large body of work including several works of both fiction and non-fiction in addition to a vast number of short stories and essays.
Raised in the port town of Hannibal, Missouri, which later provided the setting for his best-known novels Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Twain left school at the age of 11 to become a printer’s apprentice and educated himself in public libraries.
Since boyhood Twain had but one ambition: to become a steamboat pilot. After two years of training, he earned his pilot’s licence and worked on the river until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. After serving briefly in the Confederate Army, Twain moved west to Nevada, and later San Francisco, where a humorous tale published in the The Saturday Press and his work as a reporter for the Sacramento Union soon brought him national attention.
In 1867, a local newspaper offered Twain a trip to the Mediterranean aboard the Quaker City which inspired a collection of travel letters later compiled as The Innocents Abroad. Upon returning to the United States, Clemens courted Olivia Langdon (a fellow passenger aboard the Quaker City, Charles Langdon, had shown Twain his sister Olivia’s photograph and Twain claimed that he fell in love with her at first sight).
The couple were married in 1870 and moved to Hartford, Connecticut in 1870 where Twain would write his most celebrated novels: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.
Both wildly popular and controversial at the time of publication in 1876, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer established one of the most memorable characters in American literature, Tom Sawyer, who appeared in three later sequels: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894), and Tom Sawyer, Detective (1896).
Perhaps Twain’s “most clearly autobiographical novel”, the classic tale of American boyhood arrived when America was celebrating its centennial and, “[b]y the time of Twain’s death, it was his top-selling book. It has been in print continuously since 1876, and has outsold all other Mark Twain works” (Rasmussen, 459).
The book was first published in London without any illustrations in June of 1876, and subsequently in the United States in December of that same year by American Publishing Company in both a blue pictorial cloth, available to the public, and a deluxe publisher’s half morocco binding sold at a premium by subscription.
The sequel to Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, was first published in the United Kingdom in December of 1884, and shortly after in the United States in February of 1885. Sold by subscription by Charles L. Webster and Company in the U.S., 20,000 copies were produced in a pictorial cloth binding, 2,500 in sheep, and 500 in half morocco.
Subscribers were also invited to request a blue cloth binding, as opposed to the the publisher’s standard green, to match that of Tom Sawyer. The blue pictorial cloth is now roughly twenty times more rare than the green.
Twain initially conceived of the work as a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer that would follow Huckleberry Finn through adulthood, but after several years of revisions he abandoned this plan and revised it as a scathing satire of the Antebellum South.
The book was widely criticized upon release because of its extensive use of “coarse” language and has been controversial ever since, interpreted as both racist and anti-racist. According to the American Library Association, Huckleberry Finn was the fifth most frequently challenged book in the United States during the 1990s.
In addition to the first editions featured above, our collection currently includes a number of signed photographs, letters, and sets of the collected works of Mark Twain. View the complete collection here.