Historians hit pay dirt with Twain coin

Legislation passed by Congress to honor the legendary American author Mark Twain could be a boon for historians who work to preserve the writer's legacy.

A pot of $7 million, to be garnered from the sale of coins commemorating Twain, will be split evenly between four historical sites across the country connected to the writer.

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But before curators and others can use the money to refurbish and maintain museums and libraries that house Twain's legacy, they have to raise matching funds that equal the federal gift.

“The fact that it creates a matching scenario that doesn't affect taxpayers, it's something Twain himself would approve. It will excite our donors and I feel confident that we will be able to match those funds,” said Cindy Lovell, executive director of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, Mo.

Lobbyists have been a keeping an eye on the bill. Joel Freedman, a former head of government affairs for The Hartford Financial Services Group who lobbies on insurance issues, sits on the board of trustees for the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Conn.

Greg Boyko, who is chairman of the trustees’ board, credited Freedman for helping to gain traction for the legislation after joining the board in 2010.

“Frankly, he was the spark plug to help get this done. He had a lot of skill and knowledge to bring to this,” Boyko said about Freedman. “He was the orchestra director of this whole thing. He was part of it and so were others.”

“This is how I decided to give back to the community. I have always been fascinated with the Mark Twain board,” Freedman said. “Not only does it house Mark Twain's legacy but it serves as a major tourism attraction for Connecticut.”

Cassidy & Associates, one of K Street's top firms, monitored the legislation off and on for the past several years, according to lobbying disclosure records.

The firm represents Elmira College in New York, which is home to the Mark Twain Study where the writer — whose real name was Samuel Clemens — worked on several of his most famous works during the summer months, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Barbara Snedecor, director of the Center for Mark Twain Studies in Elmira, credited her fellow Twain fans in Hannibal and Hartford for pushing Congress on the bill.

"We were grateful supporters," Snedecor said.

Twain also lived in Hartford during the pinnacle of his writing career and drew inspiration from his childhood in Hannibal.

“We get Tom and Huck from this town. We get great American novels. … This is the stuff of legends,” Lovell said.

Revenue from the Twain coin sales will be divided equally between the sites in Connecticut, Missouri, New York as well as the Mark Twain Project at the Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley.

Under the bill passed by Congress, 100,000 $5 gold coins and 350,000 $1 silver coins will be minted in 2016 at no net cost to the taxpayer. The gold coins will be sold at a surcharge of $35, while the silver coins will go for $10. If all the coins are sold, that comes to $7 million overall, meaning $1.75 million for each historical site.

Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.), whose district is home to Hannibal, introduced the coin bill in the House. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) offered its companion in the Senate, and Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), who had been the lead sponsor in prior sessions of Congress, remained a big supporter.

The coin bill has passed both chambers, with the House agreeing to the Senate’s amended version on Thursday. It now heads to President Obama’s desk for his signature.

Advocates for Twain said some of them had been working on passing this kind of legislation to honor the writer for 10 years. They gave credit to lawmakers in both parties from state delegations, especially those from Connecticut and Missouri, in getting it done this time.

“I was on the phone and did a lot of email,” Lovell said. “We worked with our D.C. guys to keep it moving, keep the excitement going. God bless them.”