Mark Twain’s 1835 Martin Guitar Valued at Over $15 million

Mark Twain, the literary legend who left us with invaluable amazing stories, has left us his Martin 2 ½-17 parlor guitar which is valued at over $15 Million.

Mark Twain's 1835 Martin

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If you could travel back in time to 1835, when C.F. Martin Sr. created these Martin 2 1/2-17 guitars, this $15 Million dollar Martin Guitar will only cost you $10 – brand new. But since you can’t, you’ll just have to imagine the background story of this historic guitar.

Mark Twain bought the 1835 Martin guitar used, shortly after the Civil War started around 1861. The date of the guitar’s creation coincided not only with his birth, but also with Haley’s Comet’s appearance. And to add a chill to that little bit of information, Twain’s death also coincided with the re-appearance of the same comet, 75 years later.

Mark Twain “gigged” with his 1835 Martin extensively as a singer guitarist, bringing it along to his many travels. Like the main protagonist of his popular novel: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain traveled far and wide, often with only his 1835 Martin, paper and ink to accompany him.

Twain played his 1835 Martin guitar frequently for friends and fellow travelers. He entertained the miners of the infamous California’s Gold Rush and the newspaper men of the Nevada Territories. He also rocked the joint with passengers aboard the clipper ship Ajax bound for the Hawaiian Islands. But as many guitarists would approve, Twain prefers to play his Martin guitar for the “willing women of the West.”

Just before Twain died in 1910, the 1835 Martin guitar was entrusted to Colonel John Hancock III, who is the great grandson of American founding father John Hancock, who aside from being a U.S. Cavalryman and a horse breeder, he was a guitar collector. The guitar remained in the Hancock family for four generations until it was purchased by renowned guitar collector Hank Risan in the mid-nineties.

Risan then worked with UC Berkeley to authenticate the guitar and created the Mark Twain Project. The guitar came with it’s original coffin case and had a genuine shipping label dated 1866, with “Mr. M. Twain, New York.” written on it by the hands of the legendary novel writer himself. Risan also found an unpublished poem written by Mark Twain entitled “Genius. Risan then established the online exhibition “The Private Life of Mark Twain” at the Museum of Modern Instruments (MoMI) with both the guitar and poem showcased.

Now that is a little story you can brag to your non guitar toting friends about.

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21 thoughts on “Mark Twain’s 1835 Martin Guitar Valued at Over $15 million”

  1. Quality as expensive?
    Lisle Orillo

    So this guitar became expensive because it came from a famous owner. Most expensive guitars (about $220,00 and above) are second-handed and came from very famous mucisians. But, out of curiosity, is the quality of Mark’s guitar is just as expensive as $15M? I’d like some opinion about it.

  2. Idiotic valuation.

    Since an unpublished hand-written Mark Twain manuscript goes for around $242,000 USD, a guitar owned by him would only be worth something in the region of $50-100,000 (on a very good day with a strong wind behind it!) The person who valued it is an idiot. This headline is just clickbait/PR stunt.

    1. Idiotic Valuation? Perhaps Not.

      The guitar is roughly 100 times sexier than an old manuscript, so perhaps it’s valued correctly.

  3. A friend had an early Martin

    A friend had an early Martin parlor guitar with coffin case and no serial number. I did some online research and found that the first 3000 Martin’s made had no serial number, so I suspect it’s hard to pin the year of manufacturing down oh lawd.

    1. Mark Twain's guitar
      Gggwendolyn Gallagher

      Mark Twain’s family and friends left many memories of him singing while playing the piano and guitar. He is said to have been self-taught, although his older sister did play and I believe teach piano. Clara said that he was particularly fond of spirituals, and among his favorites were “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and “Go Chain the Lion Down”. In fact, Clara wrote that he was playing the piano and singing spirituals the evening his wife died, knowing that Livy would be able to hear him from her bedroom.

    2. You didn't look very hard
      Grubby Sanchez

      So you went to the Wikipedia page for Mark Twain and you didn’t find anything about his musicianship so you assumed he never played a musical instrument – clearly if it’s not in a wiki it isn’t real!

      I didn’t find anything about you in Wikipedia, so maybe you don’t exist?

      “Its name is Wikipedia. It is held in reverence. It settles everything. Some think it is the voice of God.”
      Voice of God quote from Mark Twain

      So maybe Mark Twain wasn’t a musician and all the following sources, just to name a few out of thousands if you bother to look properly, also got it wrong because it wasn’t on a crowdsourced website:

      • “Better known, perhaps, as a humorist, journalist, satirist and creator of some of the best-known characters in American literature, Twain — born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in Missouri in 1835 — was an accomplished guitarist and a singer-songwriter”. by Bianca Soros in the May 1999 edition of Acoustic Guitar Magazine which is unfortunately no longer online but here’s a link to an excerpt and here’s the cover of that edition:
        May 1999 cover of Acoustic Guitar Magazine

      • Here is a photograph of Mark Twain playing piano from Encyclopedia Britannica:

      • Here is a photograph of Mark Twain playing banjo:

      • “As a populist curmudgeon, he disparaged the piano as an instrument of the wealthy class and said he preferred the banjo. But he played the piano, as did his daughter Clara” – from the New York Times “Celebrating Mark Twain With a Piano”.

      • From the book Chet Atkins in Three Dimensions: Chet really loved that accordion anecdote; this guy would go to these boarding houses and he would play the accordion. He played it so badly that people would let him go without paying rent. One man heard him play accordion, he walked up- he was an old man- he said, “Young man, for a long time I have been afraid of dieing, but now after hearing you play the accordion, I think I am ready to go!”… That is a very famous passage from Mark Twain.

      1. The comment above has been reformatted

        I’m the Editor of and I have to point out that I have reformatted the comment above to make the links to websites clickable and the links to images viewable, and to make it more readable, but I haven’t changed what Grubby Sanchez said (I hope Grubby will post back to confirm this).

        A couple of personal observations:

        1. That last point about playing accordion badly appears to be about something Mark Twain said rather than something he did, but I don’t actually know for sure.
        2. During the time of the Civil War it was quite common for the socialites of the day, and for the average person for that matter, to play musical instruments. Guitar and Banjo were popular with the working/agricultural classes, and Pianos were the instrument of choice for the elite classes. Afterall, there were no reality TV shows or Social Media websites to entertain people in those days 🙂
  4. Yes Martin started making

    Yes Martin started making guitars in America in 1833 but that model is from later in the 1800’s and not that all uncommon. In its day it was not only the cheapest model but also the one they sold the most of. Without the Twain provenance a realistic value with the original coffin case would be around $3500 today. If the Twain/Clemens is true who knows? The only way to figure out the value is to put it at auction.

  5. well what i red about it.

    well what i red about it. theres only made 2 that kind of guitars EXACTLY.
    so it means your guitar looks similiar but maker of the guitar is different and theres more of those guitars u have awailable than that one.
    and also its used by Mark Twain who has written many books etc.

    all of those 3 things matters ofc.

    Your guitar is valuable sure.
    its same age and if u can prove the age and find the maker of the guitar its value might rice from what u think of it or get lower depending how many peaces exists and who used it.
    BUT its not that unique like that one.
    only 2 copies of that guitar ever existed in the world from that exact maker of the guitar.
    and also what i studied like a second from internet if the facts are correct “the maker of the guitar in that age was making the FINEST guitars in the world”

    Sure im not professional at all i just use my brains to figure this stuff out and find some knowledge from internet.
    and only telling my opinion. (and hopefully the facts are right what i digged out)

    But if your guitar is rly that old u should make a value check for it by professional and find out who made it and how many of them has been made if possible.

  6. 2-1/2-17 Martin of Mark Twain
    George Clark

    What makes the guitar so valuable? Is it Twain, is it age, or is it condition? I have one of same age
    but in perfect condition. I mean perfect.
    $15,000.000 for a guitar that has been used hard seems to me to be a pipe dream. No insult intended.
    Any answers would be appreciated.
    Best wishes,
    George Clark

    1. The guitar's claimed value

      The guitar’s claimed value stems mostly from it belonging to Mark Twain, rather than it being a vintage Martin Parlor guitar.

    1. Mark Twain's guitar
      Gwendolyn Gallagher

      That was my thought, too. It seemed odd that he would have addressed a shipping label to “Mr. M. Twain”, rather than “Mr. S. Clemens”. Does the Bancroft Library have any other examples of Mark Twain ordering or mailing himself something under that name?

      1. It doesn't seem odd to me at all

        It doesn’t seem odd to me at all that a celebrity would use their stage name in every day life in preference to their birth name – it’s all about publicity just as much then as it is today, and Mark Twain was a master of publicity as much as he was an entertainer.

        Interestingly he originally created it as a pen name, but as his confidence grew and he went on tour, it became his stage name and general public persona.

        Side notes:
        According to the Mark Twain Museum: On the river, the depth of the water was vitally important. A mark was the same as a fathom on the sea or six feet. Twain means two. If the man checking the depth called out “Mark Twain,” it meant a depth of twelve feet, “safe water” for riverboats of the day.

        Personally I believe his choice of the name meant more than a satirical reference to being “deep” – in fact I get the feeling it was a pun on multiple levels (I can’t prove what I’m about to say – it’s just my personal feeling from years of working in music media and artist management), I also think he was referring to the phrase “split in twain”, referring to double meanings or that he was referring to conjoined opposing effects just as he observed many apparently sensible ideas have – EG the effects of offering bounties, “The best way to increase wolves in America, rabbits in Australia, and snakes in India, is to pay a bounty on their scalps. Then every patriot goes to raising them”.

        In more modern literature I believe this may be where Douglas Adams, whose brand of humor was comparable to Mark Twain’s, got the idea for “42” from. Mathematically this number can be represented as “twain x twain + twain” or “twain^twain + twain” or as “twain twains and twain” – not everyone agrees with me, but then again I always knew there was something fundamentally wrong with the universe 🙂

  7. Date change

    Twain must have bought it at the beginning of the American Civil War if it was 1861. The war lasted until 1865.

    1. Corrected

      Thank you for the information, I adjusted the part accordingly: “Mark Twain bought the 1835 Martin guitar used, shortly after the Civil War started around 1861.”

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