Frequently Asked Question: Mark Twain’s signature

We often hear from Mark Twain fans who are understandably excited to have found an early edition with a signature and inscription that look genuine. Alas, for many the excitement is short lived, because when it comes to Twain’s collected works, a signature is not always what it seems.

The confusion arises because there are several multi-volume sets of Twain’s works which contain a steel-engraved facsimile of a handwritten statement and signature. The statement reads, “This is the authorized Uniform Edition of all my books. Mark Twain.” It appears in popular series such as the American Publishing Company’s Riverdale and Underwood editions, and Harper & Brother Publishers’ Hillcrest and Author’s National Editions.

The Charles L. Webster & Company’s Mark Twain’s Library of Humor also has a stamped facsimile of Clemens’s handwritten “Compiler’s Apology” that reads: “Those selections in this book which are from my own works were made by my two assistant compilers, not by me. This is why there are not more. Mark Twain.” According to our correspondents, this statement also appears in a six-volume series titled Masterpieces of Humor and may be reprinted elsewhere.

Of course, there are many books individually autographed and inscribed by Clemens, but if you see either wording indicated above, your book is most likely from a facsimile-signature set.

There are also sets of Mark Twain’s writings that contain real signatures. These were not inscribed to specific friends and acquaintances, but were signed by Clemens to enhance sets of collected works such as the American Publishing Company’s Royal and Autograph Editions. These are numbered, registered presentation sets, and Clemens signed a page in the first volume of each set. Knowing the date of Clemens’s death will eliminate some signature ambiguity, but not all. The Writings of Mark Twain, Definitive Edition, was published by Gabriel Wells in 1922, but the first volumes of these sets contain inserted leaves signed by Clemens in 1906.

We cannot evaluate or estimate the value of our correspondents’ books, but if you are curious about the qualities and value of your books, we recommend that you contact a qualified antiquarian bookseller, preferably a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, Inc. You can contact them to find a member bookseller in your area.