The King of the Macabre: Edgar Allan Poe Offers Various Avenues of Collectibles

Edgar Allen Poe offers various avenues of collectibles.

Edgar Allen Poe offers various avenues of collectibles.

As the undisputed father of terror and the grotesque, Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) wrote more than 150 poems, essays and short stories, as well as a couple of novels, a play and even a textbook. Many artists have interpreted his poems and short stories, creating hundreds of different illustrated versions. Publishers have combined his work into dozens of omnibus volumes and special limited editions. Biographies abound—in fact, more books have been published about Poe than about any other author. For collectors, this is an ocean full of possibilities.

Poe’s personal life was controversial and he died young under mysterious circumstances. He was born in Boston in 1809. His father deserted the family and his mother died before he was 3 years old. He was raised by foster parents. After attempts at college and a short stint in the Army, the impoverished Poe moved to Baltimore to live with his paternal aunt and her young daughter. Four years later, Poe married that daughter, his first cousin, when she was only 13 and he was 27. The three moved to Philadelphia together and then to New York, where he gained recognition as a writer. Poe’s wife died of tuberculosis at age 24, after five years of debilitating illness and decline, and her mother moved back to Baltimore. Gossip about Poe’s drinking began to inhibit his brilliant writing career.

Three years later, the diminutive Poe resumed a relationship with his childhood sweetheart and became engaged. He traveled to Baltimore to bring his aunt to the wedding. Much controversy surrounds his death there. He was found in an extremely disoriented state in disheveled clothes that were not his own. Some say he was drunk, others say he was robbed and beaten or even the victim of rabies. He died in a hospital four days later at the age of 40. All medical records, including his death certificate, have now been lost.

So what do we collect for such an icon? Poe first published a pamphlet, “Tamerlane and Other Poems,” in 1827 (unaccredited). But only 50 copies were printed and it is virtually impossible to find. He wrote for many different magazines and newspapers, and much of his work was published in periodical form before it appeared in books. Some collectors search for the first appearances of Poe’s poetry and stories. But first (and even early) editions are extremely rare and can be valued in the tens (if not hundreds) of thousands. If you want to collect very early editions of Poe’s work, come with deep pockets.

As an affordable alternative, some like to collect the different illustrative versions of Poe’s work because many famous artists have interpreted his tales. Some limit their collection to one poem or story and collect all the different artists—including all of the international editions and the commemorative limited editions. Some artists are unaccredited and many bootleg versions aren’t even documented, but this just adds to the challenge. And the variety is extremely diverse, as can be seen in these examples.

Arthur Rackham’s interpretation of “The Pit and the Pendulum,” 1935.

Arthur Rackham’s interpretation of “The Pit and the Pendulum,” 1935.

Edouard Manet’s interpretation of “The Raven,” 1875

Edouard Manet’s interpretation of “The Raven,” 1875.

Abner Epstein engraving for “The Fall of the House of Usher,” 1931

Abner Epstein engraving for “The Fall of the House of Usher,” 1931.

Others collect a particular area of Poe’s work, such as dark romances, alliterative poems (like “The Bells”) or his stories about death and the grotesque. I personally like “Annabel Lee,” the tragic poem about the death of a beautiful bride. It was the very last poem written by Poe, and not published until after his own death. Many believe it was inspired by his late wife.

“I was a child and she was a child
In this kingdom by the sea:
But we loved with a love that was more than love –
I and my Annabel Lee.”

Annabel Lee,” interpreted by John R. Neill, 1910.

Annabel Lee,” interpreted by John R. Neill, 1910.

But books, periodicals and artistic works are not the only Poe items that can be collected. Signed letters, autographs, bronze and plaster busts, playbills, movies, comics, posters, T-shirts and even audio tapes are all areas of interest.

Poe was buried in 1840 in Baltimore where he died. He had no headstone and was placed next to his grandfather who was a civil war general. Reports of his anonymous and unmarked grave began to circulate many years later, and there was even controversy surrounding his body’s exact location. Eventually, a movement was started to collect funds and a large monument was finally dedicated in 1875 in a corner of the cemetery. Poe’s remains were exhumed and placed in the new spacious location. His aunt/mother-in-law (who had died in 1871) was also exhumed and placed with him at the new site. The remains of his wife (who had been buried in New York) were moved there in 1885.

Many people collect grave rubbings. Not surprisingly, Poe’s is one of the most popular.

Poe's gravesite in Baltimore.

Poe's gravesite in Baltimore.

Liz Holderman is a Worthologist who specializes in collectible books.

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