Twain’s Martin valued at $15 million

The pioneering American spirit has always romanticised the travelling singer, the wandering poet, and the musician whose home is the road. It is a lesser known fact that Mark Twain, long before the quieter years of white hair and linen suits, was one of the original bohemians of this land. Like his archetypically American protagonist Huck Finn, Twain travelled far and often, accompanied only by ink, paper, and an 1835 Martin guitar. Though his writings are invaluable, Twain’s Martin is definitively valued at over $15 million.

The guitar has Brazilian rosewood back and sides, a spruce top, and an ebonised ice cream-cone cedar neck with a slim, modern feel.

Mark Twain’s Martin 2 1/2-17pics

The guitar was acquired by world-renowned guitar collector Hank Risan in the mid-nineties. Part of the John Hancock III guitar collection, Risan purchased the instrument replete with its original coffin case and an authentic shipping label dated 1866. “It’s one of the best-sounding guitars I’ve ever played. It still retains its original finish and everything is original to the guitar, except the bridge, which was made in 1850 or 1860. The guitar has a great provenance,” Hank Risan explained to Noah Adams on NPR’s Lost and Found Sound.

Risan worked closely with the Mark Twain Project at UC Berkeley in authentication of the instrument, along with a team of forensic experts and the Bureau of Engraving. In researching Twain’s original journal entries for evidence of his musical history, Risan stumbled upon an unpublished Twain poem titled “Genius.” After editing, publishing, and reading the poem on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” Risan established the online exhibition “The Private Life of Mark Twain” at the Museum of Modern Instruments (MoMI). Both the guitar and poem are showcased and have attracted 25 million online visitors. Twain purchased the rosewood Martin guitar in 1861, the dawn of the Civil War, for ten dollars. He was known to entertain friends and fellow travellers on his numerous tours of the American West and sojourns across the Atlantic. In Acoustic Guitar magazine, author Bianca Soros writes about the man and the guitar: “Twain played his Martin frequently — for the newspaper men of the Nevada Territories, the miners of California’s Gold Rush, passengers aboard the clipper ship Ajax bound for the Hawaiian Islands, and the willing women of the West.”

NPR interviewer Noah Adams stated in NPR’S Lost and Found Sound: “History can even draw a line that would connect Mark Twain the folk-singer with Jack Kerouac and Bob Dylan.”

The experience of authenticating this iconic piece of American history and Twain’s bohemian early life inspired Risan and screenwriter Lauren Tollefsrud to pen a major motion picture screenplay entitled Mark Twain and The Eye Of God, loosely based on an idea developed by Risan and Soros.

The Museum of Musical Instruments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Required fields *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.