Trade Mark

Samuel Clemens created the Mark Twain Company in 1908 as a way to control the use of his name and to protect his literary copyrights. He had failed in an earlier attempt to trademark his pseudonym, and he had a limited success at keeping others from using his name, image, and celebrity to sell their products—everything from cigars, postcards, and stereoview cards to lithographs, soap and sheet music.

Clemens longed to be an entrepreneur and inventor, and even had moderate success with his self-pasting “Mark Twain’s Scrap Book,” but true financial success eluded him. Between 1883 and 1891, he toyed with the idea of creating a history game for his daughters. He researched historical facts and created a game board. In 1885 he patented his game, but he made no effort to market it until 1891, when he had some models made and distributed to some toy stores. “Mark Twain’s Memory Builder” did not generate much commercial interest, and Clemens put his creation aside.

In 1889, George S. Parker copyrighted a map board game called The Amusing Game of Innocence Abroad. It was the first game to be licensed for publication by his new Parker Brothers company. Its title is a takeoff on Mark Twain’s bestselling book, The Innocents Abroad. The game sold well and helped to establish the new firm, which released a revised edition, The Good Old Game of Innocence Abroad, twenty-five years later. Parker wrote in the company catalog: “INNOCENCE ABROAD is, to a certain degree instructive, but its principal ingredient is PURE FUN.” Although the same could be said of Mark Twain, he apparently did not share in any of the game’s profits.

Mark Twain’s Memory Builder: A Game for Acquiring and Retaining All Sorts of Facts and Dates. [S.L. Clemens, c1891].
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On August 18 1885, Samuel Clemens patented a “game apparatus’ with the United States Patent Office, which would become Mark Twain’s Memory Builder. Clemens fantasized about making millions from his game, but test marketing in 1891 failed to yield any public interest. One critic later described the complicated game board as looking “like a cross between an income tax form and a table of logarithms.”

On loan from the Gannett-Tripp Library, Elmira College

Parker Brothers. The Amusing Game of Innocence Abroad. Salem, Massachusetts: Parker Brothers, [1888-1890].
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When George S. Parker had noticed that Horatio Alger’s books were very popular, he transferred Alger’s rags-to-riches theme to a game board—The Office Boy Game—which sold well. He would then turn Mark Twain’s bestselling book, The Innocents Abroad into the bestselling game, Innocence Abroad. Mark Twain was not mentioned on the game board, and it is believed that he received no royalties from Parker.

From the collection of Susan Jaffe Tane

West & Lee. Portrait Authors. Salem: West & Lee Game Company, [1874]. Set of 64 cards.
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The West & Lee edition of this popular card game was patented in 1873, and is the first edition of the game to include Mark Twain as one of its authors. Over 200 versions of the game were produced by various publishers. Parker Brothers began producing their version in 1875. By 1897 they dominated the market and still publish the game today.

From the collection of Susan Jaffe Tane

View an image of this exhibition case: 1

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