News | January 31, 2023

Bidding Opens on Mark Twain’s Typewriter

Heritage Auctions

Mark Twain's Williams No. 6 typewriter

The love-hate relationship Mark Twain had with typewriters is well-documented. The author known best for his stories about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn soured on the devices - he acquired his first in 1874 - that were according to him, "full of caprices, full of defects - devilish ones."

He was so firm in his dislike that he took his disdain a step further in a letter to the Remington Company on March 10, 1875, shortly after they began marketing the device, steadfastly refusing to lend his name to a testimonial.

"Please do not use my name in any way," he wrote. "Please do not even divulge that fact that I own a machine. I have entirely stopped using the typewriter, for the reason that I never could write a letter with it to anybody without receiving a request by return mail that I would not only describe the machine, but state what progress I had made in the use of it, etc., etc. I don't like to write letters, and so I don't want people to know I own this curiosity-breeding little joker."

One of Twain's typewriters will come to auction for the first time in the upcoming Heritage Auctions Historical Manuscripts sale on February 22.

"Mark Twain's dislike for typewriters is well documented, but he was one of the first authors to own one and eventually warmed up to them," says Sandra Palomino, Director of Historical Manuscripts at Heritage Auctions. "In 1883, he became one of the first authors to type a manuscript when he delivered a typed copy of Life on the Mississippi to his publisher."

Toward the end of his life, Twain (real name Samuel Clemens) purchased this beautiful and impeccably provenanced Williams No. 6 "grasshopper" typewriter which he owned from 1908 until his death in 1910. The company produced it from 1904 to 1909, but the serial number on this example dates its manufacture to 1908. The Twains moved to Stormfield, his beloved mansion in Redding, Connecticut, in the spring of that year. This model also marked a significant improvement from the earliest machines, because its design allowed the typist to view text as it was written thanks to the "grasshopper" mechanism that pushed the typebar up as the key was struck.

It was given by Twain's daughter Clara to Harry B. Iles, the superintendent and groundskeeper at Stormfield, to thank Iles for his years of service. It remained in the Iles family until it was sold in 1982, and again in 1990 to the consignor, a close friend of Iles' son, Harry.

Other highlights in the auction include:

  • Martin Luther King Jr. inscribed and signed copy of Ebony Magazine, May 1965 issue covering the historic Selma-to-Montgomery marches in Alabama.
  • Confederate Colonel John S. Mosby's farewell address to his Rangers, one of the most important military addresses of the Civil War.
  • Three fair copy letters between Generals George Washington and Thomas Gage in the hand of John Hancock regarding the treatment of prisoners captured at the Battle of Bunker Hill
  • A document signed by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, appointing Samuel Tredwell of North Carolina to be Inspector of the Revenue for the Port of Edenton
  • A John F. Kennedy autograph letter signed to a crew member of a Navy patrol torpedo boat