What a talker he is. He could persuade a fish to come out and
take a walk with him. When he is present I always believe him -- I cannot help
it. When he is gone away all the belief evaporates. He is a most daring and
- Mark Twain's Notebook
As a publisher of a Mark Twain research website, I frequently receive a variety of inquiries regarding new discoveries related to Mark Twain and the people with whom he associated. In August 2004 a colleague forwarded me an email with an attachment which included intriguing photos. As someone who had researched and published an article on inventor James W. Paige and his connection with Mark Twain (Mark Twain, James. W. Paige and the Paige Typesetter), my colleague thought I might be interested. The photos were of documents, letters, newspaper clippings, blueprints, business cards and what appeared to be a typesetting component. The dates on the documents in the photos ranged from the 1870s when James W. Paige lived in Rochester to the 1890s when he lived in Chicago -- a treasure trove for any biographical researcher.
I immediately recognized the importance of the items in the photographs and their potential to shed new light on the life and work of inventor James W. Paige and his business dealings with Mark Twain. The email and photos were sent from the email address firstname.lastname@example.org and the correspondent signed the message "Laurel." I replied to the correspondent asking for more information and received this cordial reply:
Date Sent: Monday, August 23, 2004 4:01 PM
Cc: Fish2Wanda <Fish2Wanda@aol.com>
Subject: RE: FWD: paige compositor
Hi Barbara, Thanks for the email. I truly believe that the collection of correspondence belonged to Mr. Paige. I cannot describe all the contents without going through all the letters, telegrams, letters of law, etc., due to the fragility and handling. Many of these letters were correspondence in getting the machine patented, the difficulties of financial support, how the machine was operating, by recording how many mistakes per line of type that particular day, receipts for gas bills, telegrams, US patient correspondence, requests for parts (lead or metal?), list of all the directors and people involved.
I believe there is a lot more to tell. I am not sure of this, but I have an old trunk in which these contents were inside. This may have been his trunk as well. I think I might be able to tell is this it true or not because of the divisions in the papers might have been the dividers of the antique trunk. I don't have the trunk with me at this time but it can be retrieved.
One justified small sheet is entitled "The Paige Compositor Speaks". example "I am the Paige Compositor, and I am setting on the top round of the type setting ladder. Clemens may set up on the hill and howl, but...."
Yes, I would like to sell them. They need to be in a protected environment. I am trying to find an appraiser at this time to determine the reasonable value. Any information would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much and I welcome any emails.
Many thanks, Laurel
I responded to Laurel asking if he/she could provide me with a chain of ownership or provenance for the items and again received a warm reply the next day:
Date Sent: Tuesday, August 24, 2004 11:24 AM
Subject: RE: FWD: paige compositor
Good morning Barbara, I am not sure I can give you the chain of command because the person who gave the trunk of items is deceased of about 20 years. Born in Oklahoma (1915), he grew up in Oklahoma as well but lived in the panhandle. He lived on a farm that produced crops and oil. He flew airplanes and knew my mother because they worked for the same company. They were companions for some years. He died of a heart attack. This was a gift from him to me years ago before his death. I knew the letters were there but just never got around to looking at them. Mainly because there were in the trunk -- out of sight, out of mind. I put the trunk in storage when I moved. Soooo, I was thinking of selling this trunk because I really didn't need it and forgot about the letters until now. That is pretty much all I can say about it. I wish I had some great story but I don't. Thanks for the email, Laurel
I recognized the need for having the collection of materials preserved and contacted a colleague who might be able to provide Laurel with an appraisal as well as preservation information. I informed Laurel that the major collections of Mark Twain materials that were available for research were in the Mark Twain Papers at the University of California at Berkeley, the Mark Twain Boyhood Home at Hannibal, Missouri and the Mark Twain House at Hartford, Connecticut which currently houses the only surviving model of Paige's typesetting invention. Laurel replied that afternoon:
Date Sent: Tuesday, August 24, 2004 3:22 PM
Subject: RE: FWD: paige compositor
Hi Barbara, I understand and agree with what you are saying. I'm an artist and have been a long time collector of antiques myself. It would be my desire to place these items in a proper home in order to preserve the history and integrity of Mr. James W. Paige. I am so glad there are people like you who care about preservation. Feel free to email at any time. I will try to retrieve the trunk this next week and tell you what the possibilities are that this perhaps belonging to Mr. Paige as well.
I might, if you have the time to explain the difference of the three different historical locations. Who might have what? What collections they have of Mr. Paige at this time.
Thanks so much, Laurel
Several weeks went by and I heard nothing more from Laurel. I emailed again asking if a decision had been made on a sale or donation.
Date Sent: Friday, September 10, 2004 10:31 PM
Subject: RE: Paige compositor
Hi Barbara, No I really haven't had the time to do much of anything as of yet. I've had to put my mother in an assisted-living and sell her house. I should be through when we close or her home around the 30th of this month. I'm having an estate sale and all is just to overwhelming to do much else right now. Anyway, I did bring the trunk back. Being such a small trunk with a highly decorative type of interior, it looks like one for business travel verses clothing. There are pockets for papers and compartments for other materials as well. It is a very small humped travel trunk. I didn't notice any marking of initials or names but I haven't really looked it over either. Who knows! I don't believe there are any photos to speak of. I will get back with you as soon as I can. I am anxious also so I will try not to hold things up for anyone. Thanks for the emails and fill free anytime. Any input is always welcome.
Have a Great Weekend!
I understood from another colleague that he had been in contact with Laurel (who was signing email messages to him with the name "Laura"). My colleague had offered assistance to Laurel and asked to stop by in Oklahoma on his next trip and appraise the items, if in fact they were in Oklahoma. I also requested from Laurel an opportunity to personally examine the materials for research purposes and I continued to do research on James W. Paige. In January 2005 I reported to Laurel I had found a news article which mentioned Paige had a son and I received this final reply:
Date Sent: Wednesday, January 05, 2005 4:24 PM
Subject: RE: James W. Paige materials
Sorry it has taken so long to get back to you regarding the James W. Paige materials. I have not made any decisions as of yet. Mainly because I have not had the time with the holidays, etc. I'm happy to hear that you are finding more information and that he had a son. Do you know where his son lived or his name? Well, at any rate I have a few obligations to fulfill and then I hope to get a little more serious about these papers. Please feel free to e-mail me. I'm sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. Hope all goes well for 2005.
An Opportunity Lost
My colleague who had offered to go to Oklahoma to appraise the items corresponded with Laura/Laurel for a short time in 2005. He reported the correspondent was expressing interesting in writing a book about Paige. The staff at the Mark Twain House in Hartford reported the correspondent had been in contact with them and they had recommended the name of a particular appraiser. However, to much disappointment, the email address fish2wanda@aol started bouncing back as undeliverable in the latter half of 2005 and all who were interested in the James W. Paige archive of material felt a sense of loss. It seemed apparent the possessor of the materials had been very careful to never provide a last name or further contact information. But, in the age of internet crime and communicating with strangers, that is not always a fault.
I have continued to research James W. Paige. The growing prolifieration of databases on the internet yield new information on a daily basis. Background information on the Paige family in Rochester, New York is now posted in a family tree at rootsweb and ancestry.com. Other databases show Paige was married to a woman named Jesse in the 1880 census and that he had accompanied her on a Transatlantic crossing in 1876.
I have never stopped trying to reconnect with Laurel and unraveling the Oklahoma connection. A new subscription database which features reverse email lookups offers a possible lead on who fish2wanda@aol and Laurel may have been. The database provides a name and address in Oklahoma City associated with the fish2wanda identity. Other databases provide names of relatives, other residents living at the same address, current addresses and telephone numbers. Property tax records provide additional details. Databases at ancestry.com provide more insight including marriage records. The individual whose name was associated with fish2wanda, his wife, and other residents at that address were contacted and interviewed by phone. Two women, one named Laurel and one named Laura, who were acquaintances of the residents were interviewed by phone. All denied any knowledge of any James W. Paige materials or having ever used the email address email@example.com.
Only three possibilities can explain the inconsistencies:
1) The reverse email database is wrong.
2) The database is correct and the individual associated with the fish2wanda@aol account was the victim of identity theft.
3) The database is correct and Laurel no longer wishes to acknowledge any connection with the James W. Paige archive.
Perhaps other leads will surface or other individuals will recognize the archive from the pictures posted in this article. Perhaps someone who has further knowledge of fish2wanda@aol will come forward and be willing to help solve the mystery of the Oklahoma connection.
- Barbara Schmidt
Related Twain - Paige stories online at this site:
Mark Twain, James. W. Paige and the Paige Typesetter
"James W. Paige and the Jilted Actress"
The New York Times, March 30, 1892
Chicago Daily Tribune, May 7, 1892
Scientific American, March 9, 1901 (includes rare photos)
The New York Times, November 13, 1927
The New York Times, October 1, 1940