The Writer’s Dime

writer's dimeWe received an extraordinary gift recently: a writer’s dime.

It came from our friend Bill who had given great thought into the gift.

As a coin collector, he had heard a story and went in quest of the writer’s dime.

When he found it, he brought it and the tale to us.

A terrific gift.

I wasn’t taking notes as he told us, but my memory of the story went like this.

In May 1864, American writer Mark Twain arrived in San Francisco with his pockets bulging with promise from the gold fields.

Mark Twain young3

Young Mark Twain  (Wikipedia)

He and a friend lived a high life in the city by the bay and enjoyed themselves as only twenty-something unattached bachelors could at the time.

As a writer, Twain expected his words to keep the money flowing, or if nothing else the shares he owned in what surely was a profitable mine could help.

Reality eventually intervened, and he had to find a job at the local Daily Morning Call.

During his time in San Francisco, Twain made a close friend, writer Bret Harte.

Harte has found a sinecure at the San Francisco mint, an office job, and Twain often stopped in to chat.

It soon became clear that a reporter’s job on an editor’s terms didn’t really appeal to Twain and he was fired in October.

As Twain himself put it: “It was awful drudgery for a lazy man, and I was born lazy.”

Twain had some income from articles he wrote for the Californian magazine, but it wasn’t sufficient.

He and his roommate moved lodgings five times.

At the end of October, according to biographer Fred Kaplan in The Singular Mark Twain,

“A local reporter for the Morning Call published a paragraph about ‘a melancholy-looking Arab, known as Marque Twein,’ who by necessity, like an Arab folding his tent, moves often.”

The proud Twain was mortified by his situation and took to avoiding his friends.

He wandered the streets with only a dime in his pocket, “clinging to his dime in the fear that actual pennilessness ‘might suggest suicide,’ according to Kaplan.

Twain’s family was no help–he had bragged about his ability to make money, he couldn’t tell them the truth.

Bill handed me the dime. “Harte worked at the mint, Twain carried a dime in his pocket as a talisman. This may or may not be that writer’s dime.”

writer's dimewriter's dime






Fun to consider the possibilities, isn’t it?

Mark Twain, of course, picked himself up and went on to greater glory. Not having any money forced him back on his cleverness and to explore other opportunities. He went back up to the California foothills and while in a mining camp, wrote several stories that he sold to the Californian. 

His writing career eventually felt secure enough he didn’t need to carry that dime anymore.

We’re not collectors, though we do own a possible Chagall painting (you can read that fun story here and here).

The writer’s dime, though, represents a thought gift from a friend, to a writer who lives not far from San Francisco.

It’s encouraging to think what having a dime like this in my pocket could mean, isn’t it?


The writer’s dime–owned by Mark Twain? Click to Tweet

A fun gift to a writer: the writer’s dime. Click to Tweet

Did Mark Twain own the writer’s dime or not? Who cares? Click to Tweet

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