Celebrity Invention: Mark Twain's Scrapbook

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for patentsrichfamous_280(2).jpgSome celebrities aren't just pretty faces. A few of them are also touched with that Yankee prowess for tinkering and invention. In this weekly series, we introduce you to the Patents of the Rich and Famous. And maybe you learn a little bit about how patent literature works along the way.

Inventor: Mark Twain aka Samuel L. Clemens

Known For: When The Atlantic commemorated its 153rd birthday earlier this week, we recognized some pieces from our past, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson's poetry and these 12 useful editing rules.

Twain didn't invent anything for The Atlantic, but before he wrote his classroom favorite -- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn -- he penned works for our publication. In an 1874 letter to then editor-in-chief William Dean Howells, Twain discusses the special Atlantic-Twain bond: "The Atlantic audience is the only audience that I sit down before with perfect serenity (for the simple reason that it don't require a 'humorist' to paint himself stripèd and stand on his head every fifteen minutes)."

Not only did our alum write some of the most enduring prose of his time, but he also found time to scrapbook. And invent scrapbook improvements.

So, here's to you Mark Twain, Atlantic contributor, great American Author, and scrapbook assembler.

Invented Apparatus: "Improvement in scrap-books"

MarkTwainEDIT.jpg

So, it looks like a book. And really, if Mark Twain -- "Father of American Literature" (as proclaimed by William Faulker) -- had applied for a book patent, he probably would have been granted one. But this patent relates to another type of book: the scrapbook. Twain's invention improves scrapbooking techniques, devising two possible self-adhesive systems:

The leaves of which the book A is composed are entirely covered, on one or both sides, with mucilage or other suitable adhesive substance, while the leaves of which the book B is composed have the mucilage or adhesive substance applied only at intervals, as represented in Fig. 1.

In either case the scrap-book is, so to say, self-pasting, as it is only necessary to moisten so much of the leaf as will contain the piece to be pasted in, and place such piece thereon, when it will stick to the leaf.

Works like an envelope. Moisten the gluey part and paste in your memories.

MTscarap-bookthmb.jpgRationale Behind Invention: As an avid scrapbooker, Twain tired of hand gluing his life into books and figured his fellow scrapbookers felt the same way. After acquiring the patent, Twain successfully marketed and sold the invention.. An 1885 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article claimed that Twain's scrapbook made him $50,000 compared to $200,000 for all of his other books combined.

Off Label Uses: This invention made scrapbooking more accessible to the less crafty. While Twain likely pasted his accolades into those pages, less prominent folk probably co-opted the invention, using it to store all manner of unconventional documents and personal archives.

Future Directions: Applications like Hipstamatic, which makes pictures look vintage by allowing users to choose old lenses to add neat effects, are gaining popularity. It makes sense that old-looking pictures would appear even hipper in old-looking scrapbooks. Forget Facebook albums, have your iPhone transmit its Hipstamaticked photos to what looks like a self-adhesive scrapbook and you'll be the coolest kid on the block.

Read more Celebrity Inventions.

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Rebecca Greenfield is a former staff writer at The Wire.

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