UNR collection wins bid for mining claim with Clemens' signatures

RENO - A ledger documenting the purchase of a mining claim by Mark Twain and his brother in Nevada was sold for $4,370 at auction to the University of Nevada, Reno.

The university's Special Collections Department bought the Buena Vista Mining District claim book, listing deeds from 1861-62, at Saturday's sale conducted by Reno-based Holabird Associates.

Historians said the book offers conclusive proof of Samuel Clemens' time in Unionville before he became famous through his writings as Mark Twain. The only previous information about it was in his book, "Roughing It."

"This is telling about things that interested him, his hopes and what he discovered on his way through Nevada," said Jacque Sundstrand, the department's manuscript and archives librarian.

"I'm just so thrilled that we got it. When this kind of extraordinary material is available for sale, we feel that we need to try to keep it in the public's hands so we can all benefit from it," she said.

The claim book came from the collection of San Francisco physician James Jacobitz, an avid collector of Western Americana.

The ledger, on page 106, shows Samuel and Orion Clemens bought a 10-foot section of a claim from Hugo Pfersdorff on Jan. 28, 1862 in Unionville, located about 120 miles northeast of Reno.

They failed in the venture, but Samuel Clemens found his road to fame a year later when he began writing for the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City under the pen name Mark Twain.

Twain recounted his mining adventure in "Roughing It," which is based on his time in the West in the early 1860s.

"By and by, in the bed of a shallow rivulet, I found a deposit of shining yellow scales, and my breath almost forsook me!" he wrote. "A gold mine, and in my simplicity I had been content with vulgar silver!"

His elation was short-lived, though, when told by his comrades that his treasures were nothing more than flecks of granite and mica.

The university's special collections department also bought two other Buena Vista Mining District items from Jacobitz's collection.

It purchased the 1867-91 district recorder's book for $2,185 and the 1862-95 district bylaws and miners' union records for $2,760.

"It would have been a real shame not to get all three," Sundstrand said. "We have a clearer picture of what was happening there from all three."

Among other items, the Nevada Historical Society in Reno purchased an 1880-81 invoice book for Unionville's Lark Store for $2,875 and 1863-64 Esmeralda County Board of Commissioners records for $2,760.

"We got most of the important documents we were going for," said Eric Moody, the society's curator of manuscripts. "I'm glad they didn't disappear into private hands."

Nearly 400 bidders from around the world competed for 465 lots. Holabird Associates bills itself as the nation's largest auction house of historical Western Americana.

"As far as price per lot, it was the most lucrative auction we've ever had," owner Fred Holabird said. "Dr. Jacobitz showed up and was astounded at the interest in his collection."

Also sold were an 1875-76 Virginia City-area map for $6,037, an 1870s miners lantern for $3,795 and a 1924 Coca Cola calendar for $1,840.

A 1860 or 1861 photo of Gold Hill - among the oldest known photos of Nevada - fetched $1,610, while a late 19th century photo of black coal miners near Coos Bay, Ore., went for $1,955.

The 1871-1917 ledger for Farmers & Merchants Bank of Los Angeles was sold for $8,050. It contained the signatures of nearly every prominent Southern California businessman from the period.

AP reporter Sandra Chereb in Reno contributed to this report.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment