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An Unusual Presentation Copy of
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
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“Taking the pledge will not make bad liquor good, but it will improve it”

SAMUEL L. CLEMENS. [MARK TWAIN]. Signed Book. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer’s Comrade). New York: Charles Webster, 1886. Second American edition. 8 3/8 x 6 5/8 in. With several prints, clippings, and other ephemera tipped in. Rebound at the Roycroft bindery.

Inventory #23193       Price: $25,000

Additional Images Available Upon Request

Historical Background

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Moby-Dick are often contenders for the title of “greatest American novel.” Indisputable, however, is Clemens’s sense of humor, as his inscribed and signed aphorism on the title page here indicates: “To Mr. Garth W. Cate: Taking the pledge will not make bad liquor good, but it will improve it. Truly Yours, Mark Twain, Nov. 25/06.” This is the second American edition, with 174 illustrations by E. W. Kemble and a photogravure plate of a Clemens portrait bust by Karl Gerhardt. Additionally, there is an albumen photograph of Clemens mounted on the recto of the Gerhardt plate, an engraved portrait of Clemens mounted on verso of rear endpaper, several newspaper clippings, and three letters detailing the book’s history and travels.  

Clemens’s humorous inscription is explained in an accompanying letter from Garth W. Cate to Victor Jacobs, October 14, 1964. In 1906, Garth Cate was working as the lecture manager for Elbert Hubbard, founder of the Roycroft artisan community in East Aurora, New York. Cate brought his well-worn childhood copy of Huckleberry Finn in to the Roycroft bindery to have it rebound. Hubbard saw the book and suggested Cate send it Clemens to for an inscription, and even offered to write Twain personally. Cate explains: “So I sent HUCK back to its spiritual father, and when it returned I was somewhat shocked, having been sent to a temperance Sunday School by a whiskey fearing mother. … Later on I was to marry a Christian Science practitioner, and when she saw this inscription she exclaimed: ‘Why, that is the most immoral thing I ever saw! How could a great author send such a sentiment to a young man?’ ”

Twain was no great fan of the temperance movement, especially its more radical proponents, whom he felt hurt the message. “Temperate temperance is best,” Twain said in 1896. “Intemperate temperance injures the cause of temperance, while temperate temperance helps it in its fight against intemperate intemperance. Fanatics will never learn that.” He also disparaged the idea of total abstinence, hoping “to totally abstain from total abstinence itself” and disliked temperance pledges, especially when impressed upon youth by older generations.

Garth Cate (1883?-1974) was an author, newspaperman, and social activist. He was born is Portage, Wisconsin, worked for newspapers in New York and Chicago, and retired to Tryon, North Carolina, working as a travel consultant. He was involved in literary circles that included Tom Wolfe, George Bernard Shaw, and Carl Sandburg. An early environmentalist and civil rights activist, Cate rubbed elbows with other social reformers such as Margaret Sanger and Roycroft founder Elbert Hubbard.

Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) was an American writer and philosopher. He is best known for founding the Roycroft artisan community in East Aurora, New York. Part of the Arts and Crafts movement, Roycroft championed artisanal production and attracted printers, leather workers, metalsmiths, furniture makers, and bookbinders, the latter being one of Hubbard’s particular areas of interest. By 1900, the Roycroft philosophy of positive working conditions, communal effort, and passion for creativity had attracted over 500 people to East Aurora. Hubbard was also deeply involved in social issues ranging from civil rights, to woman suffrage, to anti-war efforts. Ironically, he died when a German submarine torpedoed the British passenger liner Lusitania in 1915.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), also known as Mark Twain, needs no introduction.


Some soiling and reading wear throughout. Early twentieth-century half buckram by the Roycroft Bindery, paper spine labels, original front cloth cover bound in; rubbed at extremities.

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