|Robert J. Collier (1876 - 1918), son of publisher Peter Fenelon Collier, recognized a market for a lower-priced uniform edition of Mark Twain's works and became the most serious threat to both Harper and American Publishing Company for acquiring the rights to republish them. He was married to Sara Steward Van Alen, the granddaughter of William Backhouse Astor, Jr., and heir to a portion of the vast Astor fortune. When the Colliers visited Clemens in his home at Stormfield on December 5 and 6, 1908, Clemens wrote in his Stormfield Guestbook that she was Collier's "better nine tenths."||
Robert J. Collier photo from Library of Congress.
New Material Controlled by Harper and Brothers
In his personal notebook for 1902 Clemens noted that cash income from his books from both American Publishing Company and Harper and Brothers was $60,000. He also noted other sources of income boosted his 1902 yearly salary to over $100,000 -- a princely amount by most standards. In 1902 Clemens was receiving from Harper and Brothers a wage of twenty cents per word for his magazine contributions. (That amount would be equivalent to about $4.50 per word in the year 2007.) In 1902 Clemens had published a number of stories in Harper's publications. "A Double-Barrelled Detective Story," written in 1901 containing 20,650 words was serialized in Harper's Monthly in January and February 1902. In April 1902 the story was released as a 179-page book. "The Californian's Tale," first published in 1893 in the obscure Liber Scriptorium was republished in the March 1902 issue of Harper's Monthly. In July 1902 Clemens published the 765-word fable "The Five Boons of Life" in Harper's Weekly, July 5, 1902. "Amended Obituaries" appeared in the November 15, 1902 issue of Harper's Weekly. ""Was It Heaven? Or Hell?" appeared in the December 1902 issue of Harper's Monthly and "Belated Russian Passport" appeared in the December 6, 1902 issue of Harper's Weekly. George Harvey published Mark Twain's "Defense of General Funston" in his own North American Review in May 1902. In order to maximize income from these shorter writings which appeared in Harper's publications, it was not hard to visualize a twenty-third volume to be added the uniform edition sets being issued by American Publishing Company.
New Contract Discussions
Clemens's contract for magazine contributions with Harper's expired in 1902. In January 1903 he set down some of his thoughts in a letter to Henry Rogers's secretary Katherine Harrison regarding renewing it. Key items among his points were:
2. Bliss shall be allowed to add the book to his collection after a named interval, say six months or a year;
3. that I being Bliss's partner want the threatening letters to cease, as they injure my pocket (Leary, p. 516).
Harper was still threatening American Publishing Company with lawsuits and Clemens has tiring of the feud between the publishers. In February when Frank Bliss requested permission from Harper to use their magazine works in Volume 23 of the uniform editions, he was granted permission to do so. The twenty-third volume would be offered to all buyers of the previous uniform editions published by American Publishing Company.
On March 7, 1902 Frank Bliss wrote to Clemens that Robert J. Collier of P F. Collier publishing company was offering to publish a ten-volume edition of Mark Twain's works in uniform bindings. Collier offered Bliss and Clemens $1 per set with a guaranteed sale of 35,000 sets per year. Bliss was hesitant to accept the offer. Clemens was eager to accept the arrangement and wrote to Henry Rogers a few days later to get his opinion: "Collier is getting restive, but I hope he won't fly the track. The cussed business is full of complications, but nearly all of them have been side-tracked" (Leary, p. 521).
April 29, 1903 Clemens recorded in his personal notebook that Robert J. Collier was still anxious to publish "a cheap set" of Mark Twain's books to be sold by subscription and offered $40,000 a year for two years. Clemens also noted that Scribner's publishing company was seeking rights to publish a $50 subscription set offering a royalty of $7.50 a set (Leary, p. 525).
Clemens recognized the advantage of mining all income brackets for sales. He felt that there would always be expensive editions and cheap editions issuing side by side. Years earlier he had explained the concept to Rudyard Kipling:
Take the case of Sir Walter Scott's novels ... When the copyright notes protected them I bought editions as expensive as I could afford, because I liked them. At the same time the same firm were selling editions that a cat might buy. They had their real estate, and not being fools recognized that one portion of the plot could be worked as a gold mine, another as a vegetable garden and another as a marble quarry (Neider, p. 315).
American Publishing Company Adds the Hillcrest Edition
Frank Bliss, no doubt taking a lead from other publishers who were suggesting that cheaper sets of uniform editions of Mark Twain's works could fill a void in the marketplace, undertook the publication and distribution of a Hillcrest Edition which would sell for $36.50. The price, however, was still higher than a number of American book buyers could afford, but Bliss was apparently content to slowly mine the various economic income brackets.
"I wish all publishers were in hell"
On May 11, 1903, Collier made a personal visit to Clemens to plead his case for offering a cheap uniform edition. Clemens made a notation in his personal notebook to show the proposal to Henry Rogers on May 31. Collier was also interested in spiriting Clemens away from Harper and Brothers. He offered him thirty cents a word and a guaranteed income of $10,000 a year to write exclusively for him even if he wrote nothing.
The months of June and July 1903 represented a turning point in who would gain control over all of Mark Twain's works. On June 4 Clemens met with the directors of American Publishing Company in Hartford who expressed concerns about the leadership of Frank and Walter Bliss and possible litigation. On June 8 Clemens visited with Frederick Duneka to ask if he indeed had proof that Bliss was liable and had transgressed regarding the Harper's contracts. On June 24 Clemens met with Frederick Duneka and Robert Collier and they made arrangements to buy out Clemens's contract from Bliss and American Publishing Company. Clemens wrote to Henry Rogers, "While I was arranging with Mr. Duneka, his lawyer telephoned from Hartford to say he should open the case against the Am. Pub. Co. to-day. He was ordered by telephone to hold on for a week" (Leary, p. 532). The next day, June 25, Frank Bliss and Hartford banker Ward Windsor Jacobs visited Clemens at his home in Riverdale in New York. Clemens laid out his specific proposals for terminating his association with American Publishing Company. Two days later on June 27 Frank Bliss replied by letter to Clemens's offer stating he wanted $50,000 to release Clemens from his contracts. Bliss further wrote:
It is rather a small sum for us to name for thus abandoning a business which has taken several years to lead up to this point, neglecting other lines of business for the sake of developing yours. Having accomplished what we have to your benefit rather than our own, as we have had to pay for the plant, we cannot be expected to step one side for a trifle (Leary, p.533).
Frank Bliss's letter enraged Clemens who later wrote a manuscript he titled "As Regards The Company's Benevolences" in which he detailed how much profit American Publishing Company had made from his books and how Frank's father Elisha Bliss had cheated him out of royalties.
No member of the American Publishing Company has ever had the bowels of his compassion strained, out of pity for me ... I can say this for Elisha Bliss, to-wit: he did not have his son's passion for "neglecting other lines of business" to develop mine. No, he was not that kind of a developer, he looked after the "other lines of business" first -- just as any other thoughtful burglar would. ... I am blandly set down as an object of the Company's BENEVOLENCE! And by a Bliss! (Leary, p. 534).
Some of Clemens's indignation at Frank Bliss was justified. American Publishing Company's fortunes had been built on the works of Mark Twain who had been the star author under their control. Judging by entries in Clemens's notebooks, he planned to support Robert Collier's bid to buy out his contracts from Frank Bliss and on July 15 he noted that Collier had secured a purchase-option from American Publishing Company.
Frank Bliss's Personal Notebook - August 1903
Frank Bliss's personal notebook for August 1903 survives in the collections at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, Virginia. A loose page at the front of his notebook reveals Bliss felt the greatest damages to American Publishing Company's sales had come from Harper's advertising campaign of their Mark Twain titles sold as the "6 Best Books" which were not a set at all. Bliss felt that $50,000 was the value of the printing plates for Mark Twain's works he owned as well as their rights in the books. However, he felt that his additional stock of old books as well as royalties and profits would raise his total sell-out price to $96,000.
Bliss's notes indicate he was concerned with Scribner's as well as Collier's producing a cheap set of Mark Twain's uniform edition. Bliss noted that "at the end of 2 years Collier's would be worked out & the market virtually gone in all probability & the A.P.C. left with its plant" (Bliss, 1903).
On August 3, 1903 Clemens telegraphed Bliss to come to New York and meet him at the Grosvenor Hotel where he was staying to discuss a "new scheme." Bliss was out of town that day but his brother Walter replied that Frank would probably be able to take an afternoon train down there. Bliss arrived in New York on August 4 about 7:30 in the evening during stormy weather. The next morning on August 5, he went to the Grosvenor Hotel at 9:30 in the morning to meet Clemens. Bliss often wrote his notes without punctuation, capitalization, or paragraphing. For ease of readability, the following transcript supplies punctuation and capitalization that often do not appear in the original notebook. Words that are illegible are represented as [?]. Bliss wrote:
Aug. 5. I called at Grosvenor Hotel 9:30 am. Went to Clemens' room & was greeted by an exclamation wanting to know if I was alive. I said yes, good naturedly, with some reference to the terrible storm of the previous evg; but Clemens pitched on to me about not coming to him in the evening before, which I had not even thought of doing even under more favorable conditions, but he would listen to no reason till I finally lost my temper & demanded to know what he was driving at. I don't exactly remember what was said only a war of words exclusively about our meeting, he claiming that the telegrams -- letter indicated that I was to come directly to his hotel & I said nothing of the kind. Finally he said it needn't be so serious for he was only joking.
Then we calmed down & C. inquired if I had come with authority to act. I said that depended on the nature of the transaction; somethings yes, other things would require the vote of the directors. He supposed that was necessarily so. Then he wanted me to find out what the APC would grant him the rights to issue a cheap edition for. Fix it with Harper & get our pay out if our sale not less than $36.00 per set. Then followed a discussion about competition. I said we could get nothing worth mentioning out of Hillcrest with Collier's Edition on the market. He said we were the only ones who feared competition. Scribner's & Collier's both said the cheap would not hurt the higher prices. I said it made no difference what they said. Collier's would have the best end of it & of course would declare as he did, any publisher would say the same thing when he was going to be on the inside. Scribner's, I didn't know what experience he might have had but ought to know better any how.
My general agents were worried already by reports concerning the Collier edition & they would be knocked out of the sale if that came out & some of them had exacted a promise from us before they signed contracts, that no cheaper set would appear. He said [,] oh well [,] they couldn't hold you liable for verbal remarks made like that. Well I said we generally do as we say.
Then C. began about seeing my stockholders, how could he? He had tried the directors & me & made no headway & he would like to see the stockholders & make a statement which he had prepared & see them. I was making no money for them, which I knew. I told him I supposed the directors could call a stockholders meeting if they thought best. He guessed he could reach them by advertising in the Courant. Oh yes, I said & so far as the A.P.C. making money, it was able to pay its bills & the capital was such that it didn't take a great amount of money to show a profit. Besides we had some other business not uniform set.
Now I said if you are going to talk with Scribner's, & want to go with a clear idea in your mind of our old [?] which I tried hard to effect & which would have been accomplished if the reduction in royalty had been made. You & I agreed upon it but apparently Rogers stopped it anyhow, somebody did. I believe 20% on $44 set is what Scribner's & we agreed upon. Then C. said why not you take it up & arrange with Scribner's. Make me an offer to take to them. I said I can't make an offer very well & so quick. Go off for 3 or 4 hours while I see Collier's & Eldridge & come back with a proposition. I said alright but what's the matter with the proposition I made to Collier's. Oh he said you wanted $92,000. Well, I said what if that was rough figures & we turned back sales for 2/3 of the $42,000 for stock. Oh he said was that so. I didn't understand that. Why that wasn't such a bad scheme after all.
So I went back at 3 pm. Collier was out of town. Scribner in Canada. Eldridge could get Scribner down if needed. Clemens said the whole thing was so complicated that the simplest thing was to buy which I agreed to & said it was getting worse every day. We was ready to any thing that was fair all around & if we was going to sell the other fellows mustn't expect to get something for nothing. He said that's so. I said we were getting on alright but if anything was to be done lets do it or quit else the whole thing could be damaged. That I'd made a proposition to Collier but had no reply. C. didn't know why the delay had been but he would see Collier Friday & Scribner folks & talk purchase & if there was anything to talk about, any clamor for business he would telegraph me to come down on Monday as that was a long as he could possibly stay.
I told him that his proposition for 1/2 division on Collier's was never presented to me or the board of D. till after he had withdrawn. He declared that he never made any such prop. or any except the 1/4 division & he said he would resurrect that now again (Bliss, 1903).
Frank Bliss returned to Hartford. On Monday, August 10 he received another telegram to come back to New York and "Bring copy of letter to Collier, etc."
Aug. 11. Took 7:02 am train for NY. Arrived there 9:31. Telephoned Clemens at Grosvenor Hotel, he had gone out. I went down there however & found him on front step. He had just returned. He said we will go up now & so started up 5th Ave. He began by saying that he had been talking with [Frank] Doubleday & I supposed he meant about purchasing, but when we reached the St., C. said, "I've got to go down town so will leave you here -- you go right over to Doubleday. He is expecting you.
So I went. Found Doubleday who was surprised to see me said he didn't expect me. Then told me that Clemens had appealed to him to try & settle his business difficulties for him & wanted to know how we could get at it. I inquired if he was in it as a publisher & for business, or for love as a mutual friend. He said purely as a matter of friendship. Alright I said then I'll help all I can & told him many things Clemens hadn't told him that were necessary for him to know in order to proceed intelligently. We talked for a couple of hours & then broke off till next day (Bliss, 1903).
Bliss met the following day, August 12, 1903 with Frank Doubleday again. Regarding their second meeting, he wrote:
Aug. 12. D. & I differed very little; we soon arrived at an understanding which we could recommend, he to C. I to my directors, except the financial end of it for them to decide. Doubleday had an imperfect (Aug. 12) memo made of a portion of our talk but not whole. This was not signed at all. I then left & ret'd to hotel.
Aug. 13. I thought best to write out a fuller account of the result of my interview with Doubleday & give to him. I showed the document to [?], Clarke, & Gilman, tried to see Jacobs but missed him. All three favored the general scheme, though didn't like the long time for $50,000 payment. So I went to NY again that night via New Haven boat.
Aug. 14. Called on Doubleday & gave him my typewritten letter of Aug. 13 of our understanding which he read and accepted as true & correct. I then told him there was two suggestions I would make as it would help to ease matters along when I came to present it to my directors. One was that Collier should pay $3,000 per mo. instead of $2,000, thus shortening the time. The other that as the proposed $8.00 per set for Hillcrest books would not pay us our regular profits we ought to receive at least all increase above the $8.00, if he Doubleday, could get more, up to $8.65 before a division between C. and A.P.C. was made. Doubleday thought that was fair enough as to the selling of the sets & said his man had advanced to $8.50 per set now which probably would satisfy us if we wanted to sell. I said probably, it would. As to Collier's payments he said we would have to fix that ourselves. That was Collier's offer. He couldn't regulate anything different if we decided something else & we would have to say so. Also such security as we would be satisfied with. He thought Collier's would furnish a remuneration security but not too severe & only such as a bank might insist on perhaps. He thought Collier's was safe for $50,000. Said Clemens had been talking to Harper's about buying stock of ed. They wanted to know more definitely how many books there were. I left him with a promise to send a more definite ap. of stock. I went to East River (Bliss, 1903).
On Monday August 17, Bliss wrote to Frank Doubleday listing 5,100 total volumes of their older editions of Mark Twain's titles and sent him a set of the Hillcrest Edition. On August 19 Frank Bliss again returned to New York.
Aug. 19. Went to NY on 7 AM train. Called on Doubleday. Had to wait till nearly noon then he came in & said he had just come from a meeting of Rogers, Clemens & himself, that Rogers thought well of the plan & was to see Harvey and try to arrange the Harper's features. We would wait now for that. That Collier was in Newport, back first of next week. The races & all seemed to delay everything but he proposed to have Beckwith a lawyer draw up an agreement between all parties & bring the matter to hand coming week & could let me know so I came home (Bliss, 1903).
The next day Bliss receive another letter dated August 19, the day he had left New York to return home, wanting him to return to New York for a meeting the following day. His secretary replied that both Frank and Walter Bliss were away and could not be reached. On August 26 Bliss, evidently tiring of the negotiations, wired Doubleday that he would withdraw from the negotiating unless an immediate decision was made. Doubleday replied that things were still moving along. On August 27, Henry Rogers telegraphed Bliss to come to New York for a meeting on August 28.
Aug. 28. Took 8:31 am train for NY to see Rogers. 12:30 called on Doubleday. He had been telephoning to Hfd for Clemens to know where I was. He said they were having some difficulties with Harper's. He thought Harper's wanted to get the whole business & had blood in their eyes. He phoned down to Rogers' office & found Clemens who said for me to be there at 1:30 to see Rogers. I went, found Clemens, who signed [?] title papers for me & then said he was going out. After while Rogers came in. He said he didn't believe it was a good thing for Clemens to make this change but but he seemed bound to do it & so it was better to let him over his own affairs; only as his friend he had to help him. Then we had a discussion over the Doubleday propositions, and it developed that the Harper's wanted it all. I suppose to the exclusion of Collier's. Rogers said he was busy & any [?] must be done quickly. Rogers thought the arrangement for disposal of stock Hillcrest and old ed. was not satis. [?] exactly & made memoranda of several points which he was going to try to get Harvey to agree to. I told him to write them out so we could have the propositions to vote on that it must have my directors' approval. I didn't know what they would say. It was all so hurried & hazy that I did not take in a clear idea of it. He said will call in at 4:15 & perhaps I will have something to say to you. I called at 4:15. Rogers had not been able to get Harvey, but said that he had a new idea which was for the Harper's to buy all the stock Hillcrest & others & assume the agents' contracts. Inquired if they were good men, etc. & proposed $9.00 per set. Harper's settle all royalties. Old ed. he thought ought to be at cost to us. I said no, we couldn't stand any such thing as that. He objected to our realizing on Clemens' royalty & finally 40 cts above cost was settled on. At least we would consider. He attempted to telephone Harvey right off. I saw Clemens slide from a side room to main office after Rogers -- Presently Rogers returned said Harvey had gone, but he would get after him again & communicate with me, somewhere, could reach me via Hfd. I said yes & came away supposing Monday, by the latest. I staid in NY till Monday night, heard nothing except Doubleday telephoned that Clemens sent him word that he had gone to Elmira & expected to be back Monday evg.
Sep. 2. Wednesday, telegraphed Rogers, "What about Clemens, we must not be held up any longer." -- also to Clemens "Nothing got accomplished. Hold up is damaging. Am forced to decide important matters." Miss Harrison replied "Rogers out of town, back tomorrow."
Sep. 3. 6 PM Wire from Rogers wanting to see me in morning if practicable, or eve. I took N.H. Boat so to be there. Very bad cold coming on (Bliss, 1903).
On September 4, Henry Rogers sent his yacht Kanawha to pick up Clemens in New York and bring him to Rogers's home in Fairhaven, Connecticut to confer regarding contract negotiations. Rogers was no doubt tired of getting caught up in the publishing squabbles and it was his intent to concentrate all of Mark Twain's works in the hand of only one publisher. To that end, Rogers supported Harper and Brothers as the sole publisher of Clemens's works. Rogers returned to New York and arranged a meeting between Frank Bliss and Frederick Duneka on September 15, 1903. Rogers basically locked the two men together in a room with orders to agree on details of a buy out before they could come out. A few days later on September 28, Clemens met with Duneka to discuss the final contracts with Harper. It had long been Clemens's wish that any future contract with Harper and Brothers allow him the right to terminate the agreement at the end of five years if he became unsatisfied with Harper and Brothers. Evidently Duneka would not concede to a five year termination on any new agreement. After his meeting with Duneka, Clemens wrote in his notebook:
If ever a publisher gets a non-terminable contract with an author, that author can never buy his freedom from that slavery on any terms. A publisher is by nature so low and vile that he -- that he -- well from the bottom of my heart I wish all publishers were in hell" (Leary, p. 534).
Contracts of October 1903
Two contracts were signed in October 1903. The key points of the contract dated October 22, 1903 between Harper and Brothers and Samuel L. and Olivia L. Clemens were:
- All rights to Mark Twain's works were assigned to Harper and Brothers.
- Clemens would receive 20% royalties for individual copies of his books.
- Clemens would receive 17% royalties for uniform editions of his books that sold between $12 and $25.
- Clemens would receive a guaranteed income of not less than $25,000 a year for the first five years of the contract.
- Clemens would receive 10% royalties for any collections of short stories of less than 20,000 words.
- Clemens would receive 40% royalties after five years.
- Clemens would receive 30 cents per word for magazine and periodical articles.
A number of the points were those that had originally been offered by Robert J. Collier. Harper and Brothers, in effect, had met or exceeded Collier's offer. A second contract dated the following day, October 23, 1903, was signed between American Publishing Company, Harper and Brothers, and Samuel L. and Olivia L. Clemens. Key points of this contract were:
- American Publishing Company would receive $50,000 for releasing Mark Twain's older works that they controlled. Half would be paid by Harper and Brothers and half by Samuel and Olivia Clemens over a period of several years.
- American Publishing Company would be allowed to continue to sell 2, 923 copies of Volume 23 of the uniform editions they had in stock without having to pay royalties on that volume.
- American Publishing Company would sell to Harper and Brothers at $9 a set 1,800 sets of the Hillcrest Edition of Mark Twain's works. (Retail price for the Hillcrest Edition was $36.50.)
- American Publishing Company would sell to Harper and Brothers 5,000 single volumes, both bound and unbound, at the price of 40 cents above the cost of production for each volume.
- All further lawsuits against American Publishing Company by Harper and Brothers would be dropped.
The dropping of lawsuits against American Publishing Company was likely a key point in the contract negotiations.
Harper and Brothers lost little time in advertising the new titles they had acquired from American Publishing Company. By December 1903 they had added six new volumes to the Harper's Library Edition and designated them as "Mark Twain's Funniest Books." They continued to market the Hillcrest Edition and by 1907 added Volumes 24 and 25 to the uniform editions. Harper also provided books to buyers of the original uniform sets that were bound to match their initial purchases. Today, 25-volume sets originally begun in 1899 by American Publishing Company and completed by Harper and Brothers in 1907 are uncommon because book buyers had to take the initiative to continue with the purchases over an eight year period. Today American Publishing Company sets are most commonly found in the original 22 volumes.
Deaths of Frank and Walter Bliss
The sale of American Publishing Company's Mark Twain titles to Harper and Brothers represented the closing of the company's business. American Publishing Company did issue works of Charles Dudley Warner in 1904, but their publishing business was effectively at an end. The income from the sale to Harper and Brothers provided the Bliss brothers with ample income to live out the rest of their lives. Frances E. "Frank" Bliss died at the age of 72 on November 9, 1915. His brother Walter died a year and a half later on March 16, 1917. The most notable accomplishment in Walter's obituary was noted as "Publisher of High Class Mark Twain Editions." Initial efforts Frank Bliss put forth including arrangement and illustrations of Mark Twain's uniform editions determined what would be available to the American public for decades to come.
Bliss, Frank. "Clemens Negotiations., " August 5, 1903 to _____. Notes on negotiations with Mark Twain and others on the buy out of American Publishing Company in Frank E. Bliss's hand. Accession Number 6314. Box 8. Special Collections, University of Virginia, Library.
"Growing Demand for Works of Mark Twain," San Jose Mercury News, 23 July 1905, p. 20.
Leary, Lewis, ed. Mark Twain's Correspondence with Henry Huttleston Rogers 1893-1909. (University of California Press, 1969).
Neider, Charles. Life As I Find It. (Hanover House, 1961).
"Publisher of Early Twain Works Dies," Hartford Courant, 10 November 1915, p. 6.
Rasmussen, R. Kent. Critical Companion to Mark Twain, Volumes I and II. (Facts on File, 2007).
Stormfield Guestbook. Online at: http://s3.amazonaws.com/nytdocs/docs/309/309.pdf
"Walter Bliss, Noted Publisher, Dies." Hartford Courant, 17 March 1917, p. 11.