Mark Twain once quipped, “The lack of money is the root of all evil.”
But starting early next year, some of Twain’s favorite places — his Missouri hometown, the New England community where he spent a big part of his adult life and two universities — all stand to benefit from the U.S. Mint’s gold and silver coins honoring the author and humorist.
Up to 100,000 gold coins and 350,000 silver coins bearing Twain’s mug will be available throughout 2016 or until they are sold out, U.S. Mint spokesman Mike White said.
Each year, the mint strikes two commemorative coins to benefit nonprofit organizations. As collectibles, the coins are worth far more than their face value of $1 for silver and $5 for gold. For example, 2015 commemorative silver coins recently were priced at about $52, gold for about $360.
Each carries a surcharge — $35 for gold, $10 for silver — to be divided evenly among the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, Conn.; UC Berkeley, for a program to study and promote Twain’s legacy; Elmira College in Elmira, N.Y.; and the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal, Mo.
It’s a potentially big windfall.
“If the entire issue is sold, it could be well in excess of $1 million for each of the sites,” said Henry Sweets, executive director of the Hannibal museum, which has an annual budget (including its properties) of about $850,000.
Collectors generally account for about three-quarters of commemorative coin sales, Sweets said, but “with the topic of Mark Twain, I think we’ll have a lot of people who are interested.”
Twain was born Samuel Clemens in Florida, Mo., on Nov. 30, 1835. His family moved to Hannibal a few years later.
It was in Hannibal where he grew up, fell in love with the Mississippi River and made the friends and acquaintances that provided fodder for some his most famous works, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “Life on the Mississippi” among them.
Twain left Hannibal when he was 17. He lived in Hartford from 1874 to 1891.
The commemorative coin was approved by Congress in 2012, and the design was unveiled in November.
The obverse side (heads) of the gold coin features a portrait of Twain. The reverse side (tails) depicts a steamboat.
The obverse side of the silver coin features Twain holding a pipe with smoke forming a silhouette of Huck Finn and Jim on a raft. The reverse side shows an assortment of characters from his books: The knight and horse from “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” the frog from “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” and Huck and Jim.