Monday, May 14, 2018

Mark Twain’s Other Bestselling Book

by Erin Doane, Curator

Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) was known to be an avid scrapbooker. He also had the tendency to mock others who made scrapbooks but that didn’t stop him from making money off the 19th century cut-and-paste trend. In 1873, he patented his own self-pasting scrapbook. I heard somewhere that this blank book was actually his best-selling book of all time but I wasn’t able to confirm that rumor. I was, however, able to find an October 2, 1885 article in the Albany Ledger, a newspaper from Albany, Missouri, that stated that Clemens had made $200,000 that year from his books, $100,000 from lecturing, and an additional $50,000 from his self-sticking scrapbook.

Mark Twain’s Scrapbook
Label inside the front cover

CCHS actually has a Mark Twain brand scrapbook in the archives. The story behind the self-pasting book’s invention was that, while scrapbooking, its inventor would get frustrated with the glue he had to use to stick items down to the page and would let out an occasional expletive. In order to save his family, and the families of other scrapbookers, from such harsh language, he created a book with pages that already had glue on them. The adhesive was like that used on the back of stamps when stamps still had to be licked. One needed only to lightly moisten the gummed lines on the page and press their scraps into place. I can tell you that this was a very effective way to stick items down. Not a single one has come loose from the book in the museum’s collection.

Blank gummed page
While it is interesting to have an original example of Samuel Clemens’ invention in our archives, the real value of the book lies in what was pasted inside. It was used by Louise Hughson Way to save various newspaper clippings, memorabilia, and ephemera from 1889 through 1923. Louise grew up in Big Flats. On November 23, 1898 she married Herbert C. Way of Corning. The couple moved to Elmira where Herbert ran a series of successful businesses. The couple had three children, Emily Augusta, Eckley Stearns, and John Henry. Louise passed away in 1929 and Herbert died in 1941. While the items that Louise saved in her scrapbook are not in chronological order, all together, they can tell us quite a bit about this woman and her life.

Pages from Louise Hughson Way’s scrapbook
Like many scrapbooks of the time, Louise’s is filled with newspaper clippings, event tickets and programs, funny sayings, cartoons, and other items of personal interest. It is a fascinating mix of personal and social history. She included the invitation to her wedding to Herbert C. Way as well as the announcement from the newspaper. The book also contains nearly 2 dozen obituaries for various family members and friends. Each one is a story all on its own. Her brother Frederick Hughson died in 1906 at the age of 35 leaving behind a wife and three children under the age of 6. Mary Jane Little worked as the family’s housekeeper for 16 years before passing away following a surgical operation. Louise and Herbert’s daughter Emily Augusta died at just two days old.

The scrapbook is also filled with dozens of clipping related to happier times. Reading through this collection, we learn that Louise was an active member of Elmira’s social scene. When she was still a student, she and 22 of her female classmates took a trip to her uncle Nicholas Mundy’s farm in Big Flats. The newspaper reported that the Erie train made a special stop at the farm for the visit. An article from after she married describe a party she had thrown as “one of the most brilliant social events of the month.” She socialized with people whose names appear quiet often in stories of Elmira’s past such as Mr. and Mrs. Jervis Langdon, Drs. Theron and Zippie Wales, and Mabel Flood

The memorabilia Louise saved also gives evidence to how involved she was in the community. She was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Chemung County Farm Bureau and served on several different organizations’ committees including one in charge of a rummage sale that raised more than $900 for the Elmira ambulance fund and one that organized a May Day fete for 2,000 people. She was also heavily involved in supporting the war effort during World War I. She was a member of the Red Cross and saved a handwritten record of the numbers of soldiers that passed through Elmira on train and what refreshments the canteen service provided to them. When the war ended, she was chairman of the silver committee for the dinner reception that welcomed back the troops. She was responsible for acquiring 1,000 forks, 1,000 knives, 1,170 teaspoons, and 170 tablespoons for the event.

Page of items collected during World War I
The scrapbook also contains several newspaper clipping related to her husband Herbert Way’s career. He and Frank L. Clute were the proprietors of Clute & Way, a successful book and stationery store at 313 E. Water Street. In 1904, the pair went into partnership with George M. Wood to form George M. Wood & Co., packers of leaf tobacco. At that time, tobacco farming was big business in Big Flats. Four years later, Herbert partnered with Charles G. Brand and continued in the tobacco business as Way & Brand. They added one more partner in 1912 when he Gustavus A. Goff joined them to become Goff, Way & Brand, a $200,000 corporation dealing in tobacco. The last career update saved in the scrapbook was from 1921 when Herbert became president of the board of directors of the new Hygeia Ice Cream Company.

Full-page newspaper ad for Hygeia Ice Cream Co., Inc.
While this scrapbook contains a lot of wonderful information about Louise and her family, my favorite pieces are the dozens and dozens of seeming random newspaper articles and magazine clippings that can give us a glimpse into her personality. There are whole pages full of cartoons, funny poems, and stories layered one on top of other to save space. She also included informational clippings about how long animals live, the meanings of flowers and precious stones, how to tell the future from tea leaves, and the real and stage names of famous actors. On top of that, she also collected clippings on local tales of history, like how Spanish Hill got its name, and current events like the coldest day in Elmira’s history which was January 5, 1904 when it got to 30 degrees below zero.

Pages of cartoons and poems
Interestingly enough, Mark Twain even shows up in the scrapbook. Louise saved a clipping from the Elmira Star Gazette, April 7, 1920 in which it was argued that the state should acquire the Crane Farm on East Hill and make it into a state park in honor of Samuel Clemens. In particular, the author believed that the Quarry Farm study where he did so much writing should be preserved. “The state owes it to itself and to the rest of the nation to preserve this spot which Samuel Clemens made historic, to see that it is treasured forever as the place where Twain lived and labored and did some of his best work, work that will live so long as the language is read.”


  1. I love old many interesting articles to be found. To bad we still don't have Mark Twain scrapbooks would be so much easier to work with than glue.

  2. Samuel Clemens also published a children's game. That was also a financial success. My post retirement career is as a Mark Twain impersonator. Thanks for the interesting research tidbit!