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Mark Twain at the Bancroft

The Mark Twain Papers and Project at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library is converting the works of Mark Twain (a.k.a. Samuel Langhorne Clemens) into HTML files, making Twain’s work available electronically and for web searches. The Twain Project is translating all of Mark Twain's surviving private papers and published works, including notebooks, letters, unpublished manuscripts, drafts, deleted chapters of published books, essays, newspaper columns, editorials, and speeches. There are approximately 27,000 letters, 150 books from his library (many with notes written in the margins), clippings, scrapbooks, interviews, bills, checks, and photographs. The Project is converting not only items in the Bancroft Library’s holdings, but also those made available by other institutions.

The collection contains the papers that Clemens reviewed and made available to his biographer, Albert Bigelow Paine. After Paine’s death in 1937, they were under the care of four literary executors. The core of these documents was brought to Berkeley in 1949 and bequeathed to the University of California in 1962 after the death of Twain’s last surviving child.

The library has been adding to the papers since 1949. Material continues to surface from many sources. Descendents of addressees discover his letters, or they turn up among the collected papers of someone else. Old 1860s newspapers found in attics or under floorboards, or newspaper articles pasted in scrapbooks, may yield previously unknown treasures by Twain – no complete collection of his newspaper writings from California and Nevada exists, in part because the morgues of San Francisco newspapers burned in the 1906 fire. The Bancroft Library that houses the Mark Twain Papers and Project is named for Hubert Howe Bancroft, a book dealer and historian who in 1860 started collecting sources on California and the American West.

Bancroft began publishing his collection for scholars, selling them by subscription as The Works of H. H. Bancroft. By 1890 he decided to sell the research library because of other ongoing business interests. In November 1905, the University of California acquired the collection. However, it remained in Bancroft’s library in San Francisco, waiting for the Berkeley campus to accommodate it.

In April 1906, when the earthquake and fire devastated San Francisco, Bancroft’s collection withstood the quake and was outside the fire zone, unlike most of the other libraries in town. (Much of Adolph Sutro’s library, considered the largest private collection of the time, was destroyed at its Battery Street location.) In May 1906, the Bancroft collection was moved from San Francisco to Berkeley by ferry and horse cart.

The material on the Mark Twain Papers and Project site is in the public domain and may be quoted or reproduced in its entirety without permission. You can visit the web site and view on-line exhibitions, such as Mark Twain’s Take on Art. You can also search databases for letters—both written to Twain and his family and written by them.

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Thanks to Sharon Goetz at UC Berkeley for information on this story.

Historic photo reprinted with permission, SF History Center, SF Public Library.

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Mark Twain

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