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About the Archive

Content section: 


portrait of Mark TwainPhoto: Mark Twain in London, aged 63. Photographer: Russell & Sons. Date: 4 July 1899. [Mark Twain Papers, PH00226]

The Mark Twain Papers contain the voluminous private papers of Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain).  Before his death in 1910, Clemens passed these documents to his official biographer, Albert Bigelow Paine, who published sparingly from them until his death in 1937. From then until 1979, four successive editors served as literary executors for Clemens's estate and custodians of the Papers: Bernard DeVoto in Widener Library at Harvard University, Dixon Wecter at the Henry E. Huntington Library in San Marino, California, and later here at Berkeley, followed in turn by Henry Nash Smith and Frederick Anderson, both at Berkeley. 

After stays at Harvard and the Huntington, these documents by and about Mark Twain—the core of the collection—were finally deposited in the Berkeley library in 1949. They were officially bequeathed to the University of California in 1962 upon the death of Mark Twain's sole surviving daughter, Clara Clemens Samossoud. In 1971 the Papers became part of The Bancroft Library.


Since 1949, the University has added hundreds of original documents to that basic core: letters, literary manuscripts, a dozen scrapbooks with unique clippings of the author’s newspaper work, first editions and other rare printings, photographs, and various important collateral documents, such as the diaries of Mark Twain's secretary, Isabel V. Lyon. 

Complementing and greatly enlarging the core archive of original documents is a working archive of photocopies and transcriptions of documents held elsewhere. This working archive consists primarily of letters written by Clemens, his wife, and their three daughters.  It also includes letters to each of them, the dozen major literary manuscripts (published and unpublished) that are known to survive, books from Mark Twain’s personal library, photographs, drawings, and other artifacts.  This assemblage of copies is the result of global cooperation among hundreds of institutions and individuals since the 1960s, and has been a primary focus of the Mark Twain Project, the editorial enterprise housed within the Papers. 

The combination of original and photocopied documents now makes it possible to read virtually every document in Mark Twain's hand known to survive, without ever leaving Berkeley: 

  • Some 50 notebooks kept by Clemens between 1855 and his death in 1910 
  • Approximately 12,000 letters by him or his immediate family, with three new letters still found each week
  • More than 19,000 letters to the family
  • About 600 literary manuscripts that Mark Twain left unpublished (and often unfinished), many with his typed and revised copies of the manuscript
  • Manuscripts ranging from mere fragments to complete drafts (including chapters Mark Twain wrote but decided to leave out) for almost all of the books he published and for perhaps a tenth of his published short works—sketches, essays, editorials, speeches, poems
  • Working notes, typescripts, and magazine proofs for various titles
  • First editions and other lifetime editions, including American, English, Australian, Canadian, and Continental European printings of his various books
  • About 150 books from his library, usually with marginalia 
  • Uncounted business documents, clippings, scrapbooks, interviews, bills, receipts, contracts, photographs, and a handful of objects originally owned by him 

Since 1980 the growing archive of original and photocopied documents, as well as the editorial project based in that archive, have been under the direction of Robert H. Hirst.