Ask A Librarian

Mark Twain, Scrapbook Innovator

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
February 23rd, 2015

Guest blog post by Brandi Oswald, Graduate Student Assistant, WVRHC.


Author and humorist Mark Twain is best known for his famous books such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and many others. However, Twain also created other books, much less famous today than those he authored, but popular in their heyday in the late 1870s and 1880s.


Label inside a trademark Mark Twain Scrapbook

Label on pastedown endpaper (inside the front cover) of one of the WVRHC’s Twain scrapbooks


Twain, a scrapbooker himself, patented a self-pasting scrapbook in 1873. Twain designed the scrapbook to remove the long and cumbersome step of preparing the glue necessary to paste items into a scrapbook. His invention consisted of a book of blank pages which contained a glue substance that, when wetted, allowed for newspaper articles or other paper items to be adhered to the pages.


Image from S.L. Clemens Scrapbook Patent


Figure 1 B shows a page entirely coated in the self-pasting substance. Figure 2 A shows a scrapbook like those found within the WVRHC collections, which included self-pasting strips in columns, ideal for pasting down newspaper clippings.


The WVRHC’s collection features three Mark Twain Patented Scrapbooks, including two that were recently rediscovered within the Scott Palmer Family Papers (A&M 1458).  The third is located in the Rare Books Collection and is unused.

Twain’s trademark humor made its way into the designs and advertisements for his scrapbooks. For one advertisement, Twain wrote, “You know when the average man wants to put something in his scrap book he can’t find his paste – then he swears; or if he finds it, it is dried so hard that it is only fit to eat – then he swears; if he uses mucilage it mingles with the ink, and next year he can’t read his scrap – the result is barrels and barrels of profanity.” Hence, the need for his self-pasting scrapbooks. Not only did they make scrapbooking easier, but were vital to maintaining a “sound moral order” by preventing unnecessary swearing.


Cover of a patented Mark Twain Scrapbook


Twain’s humor also made its way into the designs for the covers of some of his scrapbooks. One of the WVRHC’s scrapbook covers, above, features a cherub kicking over a glue pot and holding high one of Twain’s self-pasting scrapbooks.

The scrapbooks made use of Mark Twain’s recognizable name, and earned him great profits. In a newspaper article from June 8, 1885, the Saint Louis Dispatch reported that Twain had made $200,000 total profit from all of his authored works. The scrapbooks, however, had already earned him a profit of $50,000. Perhaps, ironically, Twain’s blank books earned him more profits than those he wrote. Mark Twain scrapbooks remained in production from roughly 1877 until 1902.

People utilized these scrapbooks to collect and display newspaper clippings and other paper items, creating small archives of their own. Two of the WVRHC’s scrapbooks contain clippings and other items. One features items collected by Muriel Jewett Palmer, including clippings about her musical performances. Palmer also included letters, notes, poems, and other items.


Newspaper clippings pasted in a patented Mark Twain scrapbook


The other contains clippings and items related to the 36th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, including its service during the Civil War, its veterans, and reunions. The most exciting item in this scrapbook is a Civil War recruitment poster for the 36th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, shown below.


36th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Recruitment Poster



Clemens, Samuel. Improvement in Scrapbooks. US Patent US140245 A, filed May 7, 1873 and issued June 24, 1873.

Garvey, Ellen Gruber. Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. (Available for check-out in WVU’s Downtown Library)

“Mark Twain’s Interactive Scrapbook.” PBS. 2011. Accessed 10 February 2015.

“Samuel L. Clemens Receives Scrap-book Patent – Who Knew?” Connecticut History. Accessed 10 February 2015.

“Saving Memories.” Nebraska State Historical Society. 12 May 2010. Accessed 10 February 2015.

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