Nevermore:
The Edgar Allan Poe Collection of Susan Jaffe Tane

Other Writings

The Conchologist's First Book
 

Poe wrote his one novel—an account of an extraordinary voyage to the South Seas—partly in deference to the public’s taste for longer fiction. The first two chapters of that book, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, appeared in the Southern Literary Messenger in 1837. The complete novel was published in book form the following year. Although the book did not achieve the popular success Poe had hoped for, most reviews were favorable, and later critics have found traces of its influence in Melville’s Moby Dick.

Poe’s constant need for money led to another anomaly in his publication record: a book about the classification of sea shells, which he produced in 1839 for a fee of $50. The book was an adaptation of A Manual of Conchology by Professor Thomas Wyatt. The Tane collection features Poe’s own annotated copy of this work, The Conchologist’s First Book.

Also in the Tane collection are examples of the stories Poe contributed to literary gift annuals, including several volumes that once belonged to Franklin D. Roosevelt.

More information about gift annuals is available online


Edgar Allan Poe. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. In: The Southern Literary Messenger. Richmond: January and February, 1837.
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In 1835 Poe was named editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, which quickly became the preeminent Southern literary magazine of its day. The 1837 January and February issues contain the first two installments of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Poe’s only novel. Also in these issues is Poe’s review of J. N. Reynolds’s “Address on the Subject of a Surveying and Exploration Expedition of the Pacific and South Seas,” which was an important source for Poe’s novel.

Edgar Allan Poe. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. of Nantucket. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1838.
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This is the first publication of the complete text of Poe’s only novel. Harper & Brothers copyrighted Pym in book form in 1837 and published the volume in July 1838. Poe made this one foray into novel writing partly because he knew that longer fiction was more popular with general audiences. Although Pym did not create the popular success he had hoped for, it was favorably reviewed, and its literary effects were far reaching. Some scholars have noted that Pym likely influenced Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and many have detected echoes of the novel in the works of Henry James, Vladimir Nabokov, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Jules Verne.

Edgar Allan Poe. The Conchologist’s First Book. Philadelphia: Haswell, Barrington, and Haswell, 1839. First edition.
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In 1839 Harper’s published A Manual of Conchology by Professor Thomas Wyatt of Philadelphia. Wyatt sought to publish a cheap edition to sell at his lectures, but Harper’s refused to undercut their own more expensive edition. In an attempt to circumvent Harper’s ownership of the copyright, Wyatt paid Poe $50 to use his name on a derivation of the work, which became The Conchologist’s First Book.

This is Poe’s own copy, with his handwritten annotations. A pencil note between the last word of the preface and Poe’s initials reads, “Also to Mr. T. Brown upon whose excelent [sic] book he has very largely drawn.”

Edgar Allan Poe. The Conchologist’s First Book. Philadelphia: Haswell, Barrington, and Haswell, 1840. Second edition.
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A rare variant of the second edition, containing colored plates.

Thomas Brown. The Conchologist’s Text-Book. Glasgow: Archibald Fullarton & Co., 1836.
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The decorated covers of this earlier Glasgow edition were the model for the almost identical covers of the second edition of Poe’s Conchologist, though this connection is rarely noted.

Edgar Allan Poe. “Descent into the Maelstrom.” In The Irving Offering; A Token of Affection, for 1851. New York: Leavitt, 1851.
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This copy is from the library of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and signed by him in ink “Franklin D. Roosevelt, Hyde Park, a delightful volume.” The volume contains the first—though likely unauthorized—book appearance of Poe’s tale “Descent into the Maelstrom.”

Edgar Allan Poe. “The Pit and the Pendulum.” In The Gift: A Christmas and New Year’s Present. Philadelphia: Carey & Hart, 1842.
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The first printing of “The Pit and the Pendulum” appeared in this popular literary annual. This is Franklin D. Roosevelt’s copy, inscribed on the free endpaper by Roosevelt while president, “Franklin D. Roosevelt, Hyde Park, 1939.”

Edgar Allan Poe. “The Purloined Letter.” In The Gift: A Christmas, New Year, and Birthday Present. Philadelphia: Carey & Hart, 1845.
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Contained in the 1845 issue of The Gift is the first printing of “The Purloined Letter,” arguably the greatest of Poe’s detective stories.

View a photo of this exhibition case


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