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Auction 12: The Zamorano 80 Collection of Daniel G. Volkmann Jr.

Lot 17

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Item 17. First edition of Clemens’ first published book, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County—“The most famous tale in California, if not Western, history” (Kurutz).

17. [CLEMENS, Samuel Langhorne (1835-1910)]. The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches. By Mark Twain [pseud.]. Edited by John Paul [pseud. of Charles Henry Webb]. New York: C. H. Webb, Publisher, 1867. [1, blank] [1, publisher’s ad] 198 pp. 12mo, original green gilt-lettered cloth, gilt jumping frog in diagonal position on lower left corner of upper cover, blindstamped jumping frog in same position on lower cover, beveled edges. Mild wear and light abrading to cloth, occasional mild foxing (almost entirely confined to blank preliminary and terminal leaves), a very good to fine copy, preserved in a chemise and half red morocco and red cloth slipcase. With Warren R. Howell’s pencil note on rear pastedown: “rytxto [cost code] 1st issue.”
First edition of author’s first published book, first issue (single ad leaf on cream-yellow paper inserted before title; p. 66, last line, “life” unbroken; p. 198, “i” in “this” unbroken). BAL 3310. Bennett, American Book Collecting, p. 137n. Cowan I, p. 49. Cowan II, p. 130. Hart, Companion to California, pp. 85-86. Howell 50, California 377. Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 17. Johnson, Twain, pp. 3-9. LC, California Centennial 249. Norris 3977. Streeter Sale 2910. Walker, San Francisco’s Literary Frontier, pp. 193-96. Wheat, Books of the California Gold Rush 43. Wright II:548. Zamorano 80 #17. ($6,000-12,000)


Mark Twain, with his account of the jumping frog, produced the most famous tale in California, if not Western, history. This little gem of humor that introduced the famed author’s first book gave him international prominence. As his publisher, Charles Henry Webb, noted, “By his story of the Frog, he scaled the heights of popularity at a single jump.” Twain’s compilation of tales, along with those of Bret Harte, continues to romanticize and popularize the Gold Rush. The story of the lead-loaded frog (named Daniel Webster) made Angels Camp one of the best-known tourist attractions in the gold country.
Twain first learned of the story of the jumping frog when he prospected in the vicinity of Jackass Hill in Tuolumne County. On a rainy January day in 1865 Twain and a friend, James Gillis, went into the bar at the Angels Camp Hotel in nearby Calaveras County and heard a gentlemen by the name of Ben Coon tell the amusing story of the trained frog. He repeated the story to Artemus Ward, who in turn encouraged him to write it up and send it to Ward’s publisher, Carleton, in New York. Carleton was not impressed and sent the story on to Henry Clapp who published it in the final issue (November 18, 1865) of the Saturday Press of New York with the title of “Jim and His Jumping Frog.” The tale’s popularity spread across America and Europe. When it reached San Francisco, the story was reprinted in the Californian, a weekly periodical published by Charles Webb. The Californian featured one major change, a new title: “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” Encouraged by the huge response, Webb urged his author to publish a book of his Western yarns. The book, packed with twenty-seven short stories, appeared in May 1867, bound in cloth with a beautiful gold-stamped frog emblazoned on the front cover. Webb himself provided the foreword, writing under the name of John Paul, and the American News Company served as the distribution agent. It sold for $1.25 a copy. Printed with stereotype plates, slightly different issues bound in various colors of cloth were produced, and in September 1867, George Routledge & Sons of London published a wrapper-bound edition embellished with a spectacular frog.
Oscar Lewis traced the history of this famous tale in The Origin of “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” According to Lewis’s scholarly investigation, a version of the frog story first appeared in the June 11, 1853, Sonora Herald as “A Toad Story,” and then in the December 11, 1858, issue of the San Andreas Independent.

——Gary F. Kurutz

Additional sources consulted: Merle Johnson, A Bibliography of the Works of Mark Twain (New York & London: Harper & Brothers, 1935), pp. 3-9; Oscar Lewis, The Origin of “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” (San Francisco: The Book Club of California, 1931); George Williams III, Mark Twain and the Jumping Frog of Calaveras County (Carson City: Tree by the River Publishing, 1999).

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