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Jim, This is the picture of Sam Clemens that 1) has always looked somewhat unlike him. I have seen it said by a prominent author that it shows a very special belt buckle with his name on it. What I have discovered upon further scrutiny is quite different---in fact, could reveal for the first time, the earliest known photograph of Samuel L. Clemens, because 2) it is shown in reverse for effect.

What young Clemens is doing is NOT showing off a special belt buckle, but very clearly his composing stick he used in setting type, with large lead letters in it that he holds together with both hands, and supports the center letter with his LEFT index finger.

Below is the proof.

 

 

 

 

Presenting the earliest photograph of Mark Twain, perhaps for the first time. Now a  truly recognizable Sam Clemens in his youth.

You can see that he is holding it firmly to his waist and some of his shirt is being untucked as a result.

The type was always set upside down, as seen in the illustration of what looks to be an exact copy of the equipment Clemens used. This is why the extra finger was needed for support of the heavy letters when held right side up. It was an elaborate and admirable invention of Sam, which would come to symbolize his way of doing everything.