Indiana State University Newsroom

First edition Twain donated to library

February 10, 2012

One of Indiana State University's Cunningham Memorial Library's newest additions comes with a little wear on its green cover.

That's OK. It's 123 years old.

Barbara Cordell donated the 1889 first edition of "A Yankee in King Arthur's Court" by Mark Twain to the library's special collections department. "Connecticut" wasn't added before "Yankee" until later editions. The book, illustrated by Dan Beard, includes a hand-written note from Beard stating, "It was more fun illustrating this book than any other I ever tackled."

Cordell said it also appears that Beard penciled notes on several illustrations, such as French actress Sarah Bernhardt's name over an illustration of Guinevere.

"It has a similarity to the Beard's handwriting," Cordell said.

Cunningham Memorial Library Dean Alberta Comer described the donation as important because the book is a first edition and signed by the illustrator.

"But it's also important to our library because of who Mark Twain was. Hailing from Missouri, a Midwestern state just like Indiana, Mark Twain is still greatly loved and read by people from all over the world," Comer said. "The library is honored to provide a new home for this first edition book written by such an esteemed author. We are grateful to Dr. Barbara Cordell for her generosity."

Cinda May, special collections chair, said the book will join the rare book collection and other Twain imprints that the library owns.

"We're thrilled to have it to add to our literary holdings," May said. "It's a terrific example of 19th Century illustrated books."

Cordell received the book, along with nine other Twain first editions, from her father, Warren Cordell, who donated his collection of more than 4,000 early dictionaries to ISU's library to create the Warren N. and Suzanne B. Cordell Collection of Dictionaries, Word Books, and Philological Texts. Researchers from around the globe visit the reading room to track word changes through the centuries.

While Warren Cordell is known for his dictionary collection, Barbara Cordell said that her father began his collecting with first editions of Mark Twain's books.

"His writing is very witty, that's what my father loved. I think it appealed to his roots growing up on the Wabash River," she said. She described his family as "big readers" as he was growing up. "There were too few first editions to satisfy his bibliomania. He began collecting with the Twains, but it pushed him to dictionary collecting."

Cordell, who lives in California, decided that her father's beloved Twain books belong in Terre Haute and at Indiana State. "A Yankee in King Arthur's Court" is the first of three donations Cordell plans to make.

"He really loved where he grew up. Those roots were very deep for him," she said. "It belongs at ISU by the Wabash."

Other first editions Cordell plans to donate include: "A Tramp Abroad," "The Tragedy of Pudd'n'head Wilson," "Jumping Frog" and "Life on the Mississippi."

"It's important to make sure these books are utilized by the public in the future and today. It's the true first Americana writing in my mind. So many other writers refer back to him as the father of our writing and it's from right there in the center of our country," she said.

Twain also would write humorously about social issues as well as scientific breakthroughs.

"There are such broad topics for debating and thinking," Cordell said of Twain's work. "There are many issues that we're still grappling with today that we could learn from."

The book will be stored in ISU special collections and available for researchers to view. Special collections is located on the third floor of the library and is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m.

The cover of the first edition book by Mark Twain. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell
Illustrator Dan Beard's signature in the front of the book. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell
Illustration within the book. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell

Contact: Cinda May, Indiana State University, special collections chair, at 812-237-2534 or

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, associate director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or