Thursday, November 19, 2009

IS THIS MARK TWAIN? FOUND CABINET CARD PHOTOGRAPH

Could this original cabinet card photograph of a man standing next to a roasted pig be Samuel L. Clemens?


This is the question that’s been rattling around in my head ever since I purchased this mid to late 1800's photo. Years ago, I discovered it at the antique store that I used to work at. It was buried in a stack of photographs that were mostly of babies and regular looking people.

When I first looked at the photo, I joked to a co-worker that it looked like Mark Twain. The price was affordable, so I decided to buy it and add it to my “found” photograph collection.

The odds are slim that this photo is really of the famous author. More than likely it’s a coincidence, but the man does have a striking resemblance to a younger Mark Twain.

Sorry for the watermarks, but I probably should protect the image just in case. Now let’s take a look at some of the similarities.


- Mustache, check.
- Hooked nose, check.
- Curly hair, check.
- Solid jaw line, check.
- Twinkle in his eye. (Ok, maybe not a twinkle, but it sounds good!)

Take a look at the collage of Mark Twain faces that I put together. The man’s face from my photo is stuck in the middle. Click the image for a closer look.


Now here’s a comparison of old man Twain and my photo guy.


Kind of uncanny if you ask me!

I’m not sure if this is a clue, but it is interesting that the man is photographed with a roasted pig. There must have been something significant about the roasted pig. If there wasn’t - why would he be photographed with it? Was it presented to him in his honor or was he just the cook?


If you go back to the top and look at the bottom of the card you'll notice the photographer's mark. The photographer was S. Goldman from Jefferson City, Missouri. Jefferson City is only about a hundred or so miles from Hannibal and is the capital of Missouri. (Looks like I need to do some research on S. Goldman.)

Ok, here’s a few knocks against my photo and the biggest one is that this card has scalloped edges. Supposedly, scalloped edges didn’t show up on cabinet cards until the 1890's. Maybe S. Goldman was ahead of his time!

This man looks to be in his late 20's or early 30's and Twain was in his 50's during the 1890's. (Is it possible that a negative made many years before was reprinted and mounted on this style of card?)

Twain left Hannibal in the 1850's, but he did return a few times after. I haven’t found any evidence of Twain visiting Jefferson City, Missouri.

Unfortunately, the back of the card is completely blank, void of any writings or marks.

I’m far from a Mark Twain scholar and I haven’t done the proper research, but I’ll always wonder who this 19th century mystery man is/was.

Twain would probably be laughing if he knew someone in the far future is fretting over an old photograph wondering if the image is of him. Ah, the life of a collector is an odd one and Mark Twain summed it up best about people who collect -

No one puts bric-a-brac to any very practical purpose. There’s some human instinct which makes a man treasure what he is not to make any use of, because everybody does not possess it. From an interview, “Mark Twain in London,” London Chronicle, 3 June 1899, p.3. (Found this over at twainquoats.com.)

8 comments:

John Rozum said...

I think what you have there is a photo of young Hal Holbrook.

I like all the comparison work you did there. I suddenly found myself reading the text with the voice of a PBS/Discovery Channel/History Channel narrator in mind.

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

that's really bloody cool. and yes, it does look like Samuel Clemens.

Steve said...

Startling resemblance. I think the earlobes on your subject are kind of a problem, though.

Bill said...

Definitely looks like him...here's a photo you don't have, looking straight at the camera also--looks like it's a couple years after yours since his mustache is longer. http://marktwainclassics.com/?attachment_id=2646

Karswell said...

Cool post! Did you try contacting Twain via ouija board?

Waffle Whiffer [Brandon] said...

Very interesting. There's certainly a resemblance.

Todd Franklin said...

John- Maybe he's Hal's grandfather!

Deaf - Yeah, kind of amazing.

Steve - Those darn earlobes! It is odd that in some of Twain's photos his earlobe is more attached in some pics and more "loby" in others.

Bill - Thanks for the link. I checked it out, but the link didn't work. I did visit the site, but wasn't able to find the photo.

Karswell - Hmm... what if Twain started to haunt me? No ouija for me!

Waffle - Thanks for the comment.

bawbag said...

Ears and orbital different.

And the nose.

And the shape of his skull..


And,and, and...