Bradford’s “Mark Twain” Scrapbook

Post submitted by Russell Potter, a contributor to the development of the Arctic Visions exhibition and this microsite. He teaches at Rhode Island College, where he is editor of the Arctic Book Review. His books include Arctic Spectacles: The Frozen North in Visual Culture, 1818-1875 (2007), and most recently a novel, Pyg: The Memoirs of a Learned Pig (2011). 

bradford_twainThe distinctive scrapbook employed by William Bradford, and later by his family, to showcase newspaper clippings of his expeditions, paintings, and related topics, is marked by the three columns of dark amber glue, which look to have once been wetted in order to stick the clippings in. The unusual design — the glue apparently came prepared in dry form upon every page — identifies it as one of Mark Twain’s patent Scrap-Books, a system the famous author actually did invent himself, and one of the few of his many brain-storms (other than literary ones) that actually proved profitable.

On occasion, Twain received letters from the users of these scrap-books, some praising and some complaining of their adhesive qualities. Among the best was one which opened thusly:

“I am a plain minister of the gospel, and I wish to say, I never swore any more in my life than I have today.  Certainly your Scrap Book with nothing but gummed lines is a very funny book – probably the funniest book you ever made, but, my dear Twain, why didn’t you tell folks not to moisten your gummed lines with their fingers. I got stuck to those gummed lines! Why didn’t you tell people how to handle the dangerous thing? I have a an engagement to lecture to-morrow night and, unless I break loose, I shall have to carry this product of your wicked brain with me to the very platform.”

Twain, keeping the jesting tone, wrote in reply “Sh! Don’t say a word — let others get “stuck” I’ll tell you privately to use a wet rag or brush–but let us leave the others to get into trouble with their fingers. Then they will abuse the Scrap Book everywhere, and straightway everybody will buy one to give to his enemy, and that will make a great sale for the Inventor, who will go to Europe and have a good time.”

Happily, William Bradford seemed to have no such difficulties with his scrap-book, and indeed his family continued to use it after his death — his obituary is there, neatly cut and pasted onto the pre-gummed bars of the backing.


One thought on “Bradford’s “Mark Twain” Scrapbook

  1. This post is a lovely anecdote of American and Arctic-related history — the glue that binds many of us to 19th century Greenland and Ellesmere explorations. I read this post several times to fully appreciate the ire of the minister and to wonder about the tenacious adhesive qualities of Twain’s early glue.
    Regards, Fran Hennessey

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