Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Mark Twain's 1835 Martin Guitar

By far my all-time favorite author is Mark Twain. I have read many of his books. He was an amazing author, word-smith and one of history’s more interesting characters.

Twain loved music and played piano and guitar. In fact his surviving daughter, Clara, studied music and was quite a performer.

Mark Twain's Martin Guitar
Twain paid $10.00 for his Martin parlor guitar. This was Martin size 2 ½-17 series guitar. In today’s dollars and due to its provenance it is valued at over $15 million dollars.

Christian Frederick Martin Sr. began created these guitars back in 1833. The 2 ½-17 was a relatively normal size for guitars during this period in history. Nearly 100 years would pass before Martin would create its dreadnaught sized guitar.

Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain purchased this used guitar in 1861, shortly after the start of the Civil War. The guitar was built in 1835, only two years after the Martin Guitar Company went into business.

Twain was first exposed to music by his sister Pamela. She supplemented her family’s income by teaching guitar and piano. We can be certain that her younger brother Samuel was taught music by his sister.

Twain and his guitar were well-traveled. He entertained his friends and family with songs. Early in his career, Clements and his brother headed to America’s West. Clements became a newspaper reporter and writer, but was also a miner during California’s Gold Rush.

He wrote for newspapers in California and what was then known as the Nevada Territories.

He once commented that he preferred playing guitar for, “the willing women of the west.” 

Twain traveled to Hawaii and later to Europe and the Middle East. He sailed aboard a steamer that took him from San Francisco to New York City. Twain wrote back extensive serial reports of his journeys for the newspapers for which he worked. These stories became the basis for many of his books. You can be certain this guitar traveled with him.

Mark Twain's guitar at MoMI exhibit
When Twain passed away in 1910, his Martin guitar was entrusted to Colonel John Hancock III, who was the great-grandson of one of the United States founding fathers, John Hancock. Colonel Hancock was a horse breeder and a guitar collector. This guitar remained in the possession of the Hancock family for four generations until it was purchased in the mid-1990’s by guitar collector Hank Risan.

Risan was one of the people that worked with UC Berkeley to authenticate the guitar and he helped create The Mark Twain Project, which gave us the three volume set of the Mark Twain Diaries.

Risan also uncovered an unpublished poem by Twain called Genuis. The guitars original coffin case bears a shipping label dated 1866, with Mr. M. Twain, New York written on it in script that was penned in Mark Twain’s own hand.

Risan went on to establish The Private Life of Mark Twain exhibit at the Museum of Modern Instruments, MoMI. This is where the guitar and poem currently reside.


revfish said...

I thought I knew just about everything a person could know about Mark Twain. I cannot believe that among all the research I have done on Twain for school papers I never discovered that he played guitar!

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