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Collecting Edgar Allan Poe: Rare Books and First Editions

The life of Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe was only forty years old when he mysteriously died on October 7th, 1849. He crafted the template for the modern short story during his short lifetime and pioneered “art for art’s” sake in literature. Through his essays, he ushered in a new form of literary criticism based on technique, style, language, and structure rather than ideology or morality. His short stories were focused on a want to evoke terror or passion, or horror, while his poetry illustrated his experience of beauty through sadness, strangeness, and loss.

Poe’s bibliography includes about seventy short stories, fifty poems, one complete novel, a play, and ten essays, and he is considered one of the first American writers to make a living on writing alone. More than a hundred and fifty years after his death, the world is still enamored with Poe. The mystique of his character and imprint of his works can be seen throughout culture today. 

Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston on January 19th, 1809, to parents that were professional actors. His father, David Poe Jr., abandoned the family in 1810, and his mother moved with her three children, eldest Henry, middle Edgar, and infant Rosalie, to Baltimore. His mother contracted tuberculosis shortly after and died on December 8th, 1811, at the age of 24. Young Edgar was just two years old at the time. Poe was taken in by John Allan, a wealthy exporter, at the behest of his wife Frances. In the November 25th, 1811, Richmond Examiner, Frances saw an ad appealing to the citizens to help an actress with three children who had taken ill. When Eliza Poe died shortly after, Mrs. Allan convinced her husband to take in one of the children. Although Frances was reportedly a devoted and nurturing foster mother, her husband was cold and aloof. Allan never formally adopted Poe, and they were often at odds. But Poe was educated well, and from 1815-1820 the family lived in London, where young Edgar received part of his education.

On February 14th, 1826, Poe enrolled at the University of Virginia. Unable to keep up with the lavish lifestyles of other undergraduates, Poe used the little money sent with him on gambling. His gambling backfired, and he accrued $2,000 in debt, forcing him to leave the University and return to an even angrier foster father. He was employed by Allan back in Richmond but was stifled by his foster father’s authoritarian nature and looked for employment elsewhere. Poe and Allan were again at odds, and Poe moved to Boston, where he released his first book, a 40-page collection of poetry titled Tamerlane and Other Poems. Poe claimed to have written the work at the age of 14, and was just 18 when it was published anonymously, credited to ‘A Bostonian.’ Only 50 copies were printed, and the book received virtually no attention. 

At the age of 18, Poe enlisted in the Army, and between 1827 and 1829 he moved from Fort Independence in Boston, to Fort Moultrie in Charleston, South Carolina, and finally to Fort Monroe back in Virginia. Soon he tired of the Army, feeling he was wasting the prime of his life and began to look for an out. He appealed to his foster father for help but did not receive an answer. Then, on February 28th, 1829, his foster mother, Frances, died. Poe was not given leave in time to attend her funeral but arrived a day later. While in Richmond, he reconciled with John Allan, who helped Poe secure an honorable discharge from the Army and gain admission to West Point in the Spring of 1830. At first, Poe excelled in his studies and conduct at West Point, but he soon tired of that as well. His continued strain in relations with his foster father added to his rebelliousness. By January 1831, he had been court-martialed for his behavior and disregard of duties and discharged.

Eight of Edgar Allan Poe’s Most Collectible Works

Poe’s second volume, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems, was released in 1829. Like his first collection, it received little attention. 

After West Point, Poe moved to New York City and continued to pursue a literary career. In 1831 he released the third volume of poems, titled Poems. On August 1st, 1831, Poe’s elder brother Henry died, in part due to complications from alcoholism. After this, Poe dedicated himself more seriously to writing, and in 1833 Poe won $50 in a short story contest for “M.S. Found in a Bottle.” The Baltimore Saturday Visiter published the work in the October 19th, 1833, issue of the Visiter, and the story’s positive critical reception is considered to be the launch of Poe’s writing career. 

In 1835 Poe became the assistant editor of Southern Literary Messenger, but that was short-lived – he was fired for being drunk. The same year Poe returned to Baltimore and obtained a license to marry his cousin Virginia, who was 13 (Poe was 26). 

He continued to publish stories and poetry and supported himself by editing Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, Graham’s Magazine in Philadelphia, and the Broadway Journal in New York City. 

Poe’s only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, was published in July 1838 by Harper and Brothers and widely reviewed.

In 1839 Poe agreed to let the publishing firm Haswell, Barrington, and Haswell use his name to popularize the release of The Conchologist’s First Book, an illustrated textbook on conchology issued in 1839, 1840, and 1845. In exchange for a payment of $50, the text was attributed to ‘Edgar Allan Poe,’ he wrote the preface and introduction and edited and organized the text. He received no royalties from sales, and The Conchologist’s First Book was the only Poe book to go into a second edition in America during his lifetime. 

Poe’s first short story collection, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, was published in two volumes by Lea and Blanchard in Philadelphia in 1840. The original estimated print run was just 750 copies. It received mixed reviews, and Poe received 20 free copies instead of payment for the book. Of the twenty-five stories included in the book, all but one were previously published. Although the book did not sell well, it was a notable mark in Poe’s career as he sought to get his work collected into volumes. Now an American cornerstone, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque includes two of Poe’s most important works: “MS. Found in a Bottle” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

In April 1841, he published the first modern detective story, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, about an amateur detective who sets out to solve the gruesome murders of a mother and daughter in a locked room of their apartment. Poe was unique in using reasoning alone to solve a crime, what he called “ratiocination.” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” first appeared in Graham’s Magazine in April 1841, where Poe worked as an editor. He was paid $56 for the story.

For a few years, Poe published many stories in popular newspapers and magazines while he worked as an editor. “The Pit and the Pendulum” was first published in 1842 in the literary annual The Gift: A Christmas and New Year’s Present for 1843, “The Black Cat” was first published in the August 19th, 1843, issue of The Saturday Evening Post, and “The Cask of Amontillado” was first published in the November 1846 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book. “The Tell-Tale Heart” was first published in James Russell Lowell’s short-lived Boston Magazine, The Pioneer, in January 1843 and was reprinted many times during Poe’s life. “The Tell-Tale Heart” is often considered a classic of the Gothic fiction genre and is one of Poe’s best-known short stories.

On January 29th, 1845, his poem “The Raven” appeared in the Evening Mirror and became a popular sensation. He was paid just $9 for its publication. In the following months, it was reproduced in many publications across the United States and included in many anthologies. The poem’s success prompted publisher Wiley & Putnam to publish a collection of Poe’s work titled Tales, which included “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “Mystery of Marie Roget,” “The Purloined Letter,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Descent into the Maelstrom,” and “The Gold Bug.” Released in 1845, it was Poe’s first book since the 1840 collection Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. 

Listed by Heritage Book Shop, LLC

Wiley & Putnam also published his poetry collection, The Raven and Other Poems, on November 19th, 1845. This small volume, his first book of poetry since Poems in 1831, was 100 pages and sold for 31 cents. In addition to the title poem, it included “The Valley of Unrest,” “Bridal Ballad,” “The City in the Sea,” “Eulalie,” “The Conqueror Worm,” “The Haunted Palace,” and eleven others. Considered one of the most important volumes of poetry in American Literature, in the preface, Poe is self-deprecating and also laments the altercations of the press on his work:

“THESE trifles are collected and republished chiefly with a view to their redemption from the many improvements to which they have been subjected while going “the rounds of the press.” I am naturally anxious that it should circulate as I wrote it. In defence of my own taste, nevertheless, it is incumbent upon me to say, that I think nothing in this volume of much value to the public, or very creditable to myself. Events not to be controlled have prevented me from making, at any time, any serious effort in what, under happier circumstances, would have been the field of my choice. With me poetry has been not a purpose, but a passion; and the passions should be held in reverence; they must not — they cannot at will be excited with an eye to the paltry compensations, or the more paltry commendations, of mankind.”

Poe’s wife Virginia died on January 30th, 1847, from tuberculosis. She was just 24 – the same age as his mother at the time of her death. The year after Virginia’s death, Poe moved to Providence and courted poet Sarah Helen Whitman, but the relationship did not get far because of Poe’s erratic behavior and drinking. After this, he resumed a relationship with his childhood sweetheart Sarah Elmira Royster. 

In 1848 Geo. P. Putnam, previously of the firm Wiley & Putnam, published the lecture ‘Eureka,’ Poe’s “transcendental explanation” of the universe. It would be the last book Poe published during his lifetime. 


A Mysterious Death for the Master of Macabre

On October 3rd, 1849, Poe was found in the gutter outside a notorious saloon and election polling station – Gunner’s Hall. He had been walking the streets of Baltimore, delirious and in clothes that were not his own. He died just days later at Washington Medical College. 

The cause of his death is unknown, variously attributed to syphilis, alcoholism, substance abuse, suicide, rabies, and a brain tumor. Some Poe biographers cite ‘cooping’ – a type of election fraud. 

Fewer than ten people attended Poe’s funeral, and he lay buried in an unmarked grave for twenty-six years. Eventually, public fundraising efforts purchased a proper memorial, and his body was exhumed and relocated to a more prominent place. By that time, not much was left of his body for an autopsy, but a sizable calcified brain tumor is said to have been found in his skull.


Rare Books: Collecting the works of Edgar Allan Poe

Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827)

Tamerlane and Other Poems remains the world’s rarest Edgar Allan Poe book. A Christie’s expert called it “the black tulip of U.S. literature.” No copies of the work were known to exist until one was found in the library of the British Museum in 1876. After that, another copy surfaced in Boston in 1890. In 1925, Vincent Starrett published an article in The Saturday Evening Post titled “Have You a Tamerlane in Your Attic?” after which a few more copies were discovered. Today, only 12 copies are thought to exist, one selling for $225,000 at auction in 2006 and another for $662,500 in 2009. 

Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems (1829)

Of Poe’s second work, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems, fewer than 30 copies are known to exist. The original 1829 print run size is unknown, although it was probably less than 500 copies. 

Poems (1831)

Poems, Poe’s third published work, was released in the Spring of 1831, selling for 75 cents. The number of print copies is unknown, probably 500-1000. Different bindings and states of these first editions would need to be identified by an expert in rare Poe works.

Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840)

Although he made little money from it and received mixed reviews, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque is one of Poe’s most valuable works. Only an estimated 750 copies of the two-volume work were printed of this American cornerstone. 

The Prose Romances of Edgar A. Poe (1841)

After its initial publication in Graham’s Magazine in 1841, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” was issued in a separate edition in a pamphlet produced by Poe in 1843 titled The Prose Romances of Edgar A. Poe (1843). Only about 14 copies survive, making it one of the great rarities of American literature. 

Tales (1845)

Tales published by Wiley & Putnam in 1845, the first printing was issued only in publisher’s wrappers, and few copies of the wrappers survive. Of the twelve stories printed, three are the first three detective stories written. Widely considered to be one of the most important volumes of short stories in American literature. 

The Raven and Other Poems (1845)

The Raven and Other Poems was issued on November 19th, 1845, by Wiley & Putnam, who had published Tales four months before. The publisher initially planned 750 copies to be printed, but with an increased demand after the success of Poe’s Tales raised the number to 1,500. The volume was initially issued with pink paper wraps and, beginning in early 1846, began to be published in hardcovers bound with the earlier Tales. The original sale price was 31 cents for the separate volume and $1.00 for the double volume.

Eureka: A Prose Poem (1848)

Issued July 11, 1848, Poe reportedly hoped to have a print run of 50,000, but just 500 were printed. Although this is one of Poe’s lesser-known works, and some people don’t know whether to take it seriously or not, in a letter of July 7, 1849 to his aunt and mother-in-law Mrs. Clemm, Poe wrote: “I have no desire to live since I have done ‘Eureka.’ I could accomplish nothing more.” Just over a year later, he was dead. 

Other Collectible Edgar Allen Poe Editions

In 1858 Sampson Low released a British Poe anthology, The Poetical Works of Edgar Allan Poe: With Original Memoir, with illustrations by John Tenniel, the illustrator for the original Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. 

In 1875 Richard Lesclide in Paris printed Le Corbeau. The Raven. Poème par Edgar Poe, translated into French by Symbolist Stéphane Mallarmé with illustrations by Edouard Manet. The limited edition was planned for 240 copies, although only 150 were printed. 

In 1884 Harper & Brothers, New York, printed “The Raven” with lavish woodcuts by Gustave Doré. Doré died in 1883, before its publication.

 Many 20th-century artists and contemporary illustrators created artworks and illustrations based on “The Raven,” including Edmund Dulac, István Orosz, and Ryan Price. 

In 1901 the Roycrofters released an edition of Poems by Edgar Allan Poe.

A beautiful copy of the Clarke-illustrated Poe listed by Buddenbrooks, Inc.

Tales of Mystery and Imagination, illustrated by Harry Clarke, was published in 1919 and reissued in 1923 with additional color plates. Known as “First Clarke edition,” it was limited to 170 copies signed by the illustrator and specially bound in full vellum. Harry Clarke (1889-1931) was a leading figure in the Irish arts and crafts movement, particularly noted for his work as a stained-glass artist.

Tales of Mystery and Imagination illustrated by Arthur Rackam was released in 1935. The ‘first Rackam Edition’ published by George G. Harrap & Co in London was limited to 460 copies. 

In 1930 Lakeside Press, Chicago published an edition of Tales illustrated by D.A. Wiggins, limited to 1000 copies. Part of The Four American Books campaign orchestrated by R.R. Donnelly where the choice of paper, typeface, ink, and binding materials was given to the designer. That series included Rockwell Kent’s choice of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick; W. A. Dwiggins with Edgar Allan Poe’ Tales; Edward A. Wilson with Richard Henry Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast; and Rudolph Ruzicka with Henry Thoreau’s Walden


Whatever your reason or rhyme for delving deeper into the mysterious realms of the master of the macabre, Biblio sellers have a wide variety of beautiful books penned by Poe. Learn more, and take a look at our Edgar Allan Poe author page as well as the highest-priced copies of his works.

Resources on Edgar Allan Poe:

https://poemuseum.org/poe-biography/

“Take a Trip Through Edgar Allan Poe’s America” by Natasha Geiling. Smithsonian Magazine, October 28, 14.

“The Legacy of Edgar Allan Poe.” Britannica.

“Poe Book Auctioned For $662,500, New Record For U.S. Work.” December 4th, 2009. NPR.

The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore

1 Comment

  • I’m looking for Volume 1 of 10, 1904 Funk & Wagnalls Commemorative set.
    Do you have it or can you help me locate it. I have the other 9 books and they are in good condition, so
    I am looking for Volume 1 in like condition.
    Thank you.

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