University Archives


"S. L. Clemens" Endorsed Envelope Dating from his 1891 Cruise down the Rhône River

An original transmittal envelope endorsed by American author Mark Twain (1835-1910). The postal cover is signed by Twain in the form of his wife's name, "Mrs. S. L. Clemens," and is further addressed in his hand as "Grand Hotel [sic] Beau Rivage / Ouchy / (près Lausanne) / Suisse." [trans: Large Beautiful Shore Hotel / Ouchy / (near Lausanne) / Switzerland."] Bearing two cancelled French stamps in the postage section, several philatelic markings in colored pencil or ink, and three circular postmark hand-stamps, two from Lyons, France recto, and one from Ouchy, Switzerland verso dated September 24, 1891. Letter-opened and trimmed. Expected weathering including minor chipped edges. 5.375" x 4.25."

The envelope engrossed by Twain tells a wonderful story in itself, but it could also easily be made into a lovely clipped signature, ready for display.

This envelope dates from Twain's travels through Switzerland, France, Germany, Italy, and the modern day Czech Republic between 1891-1895. Accompanied by his beloved wife Olivia (1845-1904) and their eldest daughter Susy (1872-1896), Twain had several motives for embarking on an extended working vacation in Europe. First, he hoped to alleviate physical ailments suffered by he and his family members, including rheumatism, at European spas. Second, living expenses in Europe were much cheaper than in the United States, and Twain had recently suffered catastrophic financial reversals through investments in the Paige typesetting machine. Third, Twain had been commissioned to write a series of "six European letters," or travel articles, by William M. Laffan of "The New York Sun" and the "McClure Newspaper Syndicate."

Twain's biographer Albert Bigelow Paine recounts the particulars of his trip in "Mark Twain, A Biography, Vol. II, Part II: 1886-1900." The period when Twain signed this envelope, September 1891, is discussed in Chapter CLXXVI in some detail. Twain left his wife and daughter in Switzerland to embark on a 10-day-long boating trip down the Rhône River between September 19 and September 30, 1891. At Lyons, or about halfway through his river cruise, Twain dispatched this envelope to Livy. Here, he has addressed it to her at the Hôtel Beau Rivage in Ouchy.

Twain's river cruise began at Lake Bourget in Switzerland and wrapped up in Arles, France. During the journey, Twain compiled 174 pages of notes and observations, and frequently wrote to his family. He wrote in part: "It’s too delicious, floating with the swift current under the awning, these superb, sunshiny days in deep peace and quietness…I want to do all the rivers of Europe in an open boat in summer weather." (As quoted in Ibid., p. 48.)

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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