Edgar Allan Poe, one of the greatest poets and short story writers in American literature, was a man with very little to his name. What little he ever had went towards drink and gambling debts. Not to mention the lack of international copyright laws which allowed a lot of his work to be reprinted overseas without his permission and without payment. As a matter of fact Poe was only paid $9.00 upon publication for “The Raven” in 1945. Although it was an instant success and nine bucks was a considerable sum in the mid-1800’s, approximately $200 in today’s money, the success was near the end of his life.
Poe’s wife, Virginia Clemm, died of tuberculosis within two years of “The Raven” and Poe died two years later at the age of 40, possibly due to symptoms related to his heavy drinking. No one is quite sure as the native Bostonian was found wandering an alley in Baltimore wearing someone else’s clothes and completely incoherent. He was taken to Washington College Hospital where he died October 7, 1849.
1 of 12 existing copies of Poe's first book
Before Poe ever found fame, the aspiring writer took it upon himself to produce his first book on his own accord. The only book ever published by Calvin S. Thomas, a printer who typically produced broadsides, labels, flyers and such was the young 18-year-old Poe’s Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827). “Tamerlane” was taken from the name and, in -part, the history of the 14th century Turko-Mongol warlord Timur Lenk, whose grandfather by marriage was Genghis Khan.
Although the epic poem, originally over 400 lines, idealizes independence and pride, it also laments loss and exile. In the original version, supposedly 50 printed copies that includes 9 other poems throughout its 40 pages., Poe admits to knowing only so much about the real Tamerlane and the remainder of the poem was left to creative license. The title poem is an allegory and symbolic of the loss of people close to Poe early in his life.
Tamerlane, the warlord
For a long time it was believed that the book never actually existed, but within a few years after Poe’s death a copy surfaced. It is now believed that only 12 copies are still in existence, making it one of the most sought after pieces of American literature ever published. Oddly enough, Poe chose not to use his name on the book. The author of the book is “A Bostonian.”
Christie’s Auction House in New York City procured a copy of the rare book. It sold at auction on December 4, 2009 for a record-breaking $662,500. The previous record for an American book was $250,000 back in the 1980’s for the same book. The new record would be the equivalent of just over $35,000 back in 1827 when Poe was a young unknown, fresh in the military and striving to make a living.