Bound by a black and brown Morrocan leather cover, the exterior of this book suits its text. It is the second edition of The Poetical Works of Edgar Allan Poe. Features of the book such as the style and date of binding make it a literary artifact. The spine has raised bands at the top and lower thirds of its length, and the front and back are symmetrical to each other when the book is open; the tips have camel-colored triangles, and two thin, rectangular strips along the sides of the spine.
The book contains charming, albeit eerie, black and white illustrations such as the frontspiece depicting a scene from “The Raven.” However, some of the more interesting features are the personal notes and dedications that may have been written by the same person due to the similar handwriting. The recto endpaper before the title page contains an illegible hand-written note regarding the leather binding and letters in the book, which may be instructions to a book-binder. The note contains a signature from the donor to the Johns Hopkins Special Collections library. Even better, there is a hand-written dedication on the title page from B. Morris to Nancy H. Howard, which adds to the book’s charm.
This must have been special to Nancy because Morris took special care in selecting a pleasurable gift item for her. He selected an edition with a “notice” of Poe’s life and illustrations, and it is likely that he customized the binding. These features may have distinguished the book as a collector’s item, at the very least they were meant to inform readers about Poe so that they could know him and take pleasure in reading his works. The style of the book as well as Morris’s thought in selecting it must have made Nancy enjoy reading it all the more.
One last thing I would like to point out is the book’s colophon. It reads: London, Printed by Robson, Levey, and Franklyn, Great New Street and Fetter Lane. It is worth noting that Fetter Lane runs parallel to Fleet Street, as in, Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street’s, hunting grounds. What better place to publish Poe’s Poems?
On the most superficial level, footnotes impact the layout of the page and draw attention to the additional material listed. It is not as an authentic experience as reading the letters in their original form. Glancing at the footnotes as one is engaging in the correspondence slows one down, yet they make one analyze things that one might have otherwise overlooked when reading as well. The footnotes also make the reader approach Poe’s emotions and choices according to the viewpoint of the editor. In most cases, it was Harrison who decided what external facts needed to be known to understand the letters, although occasionally Whitman, as in this instance, altered aspects of the letters and put forth her explanation of Poe’s intentions. The footnotes transform informal, personal correspondence between a couple into a study of Poe and his mindset, thus changing the tone and detaching the reader from the original author’s work. These footnotes range in content from biographical information to grammatical modifications. Another difference is one’s reading experience where the commentary is as important as the main text. In one example, Sarah Whitman added brackets around a phrase which could influence how the reader interpreted the letter. Hence, the footnote in this scenario shows how Whitman reacted to the letter as well as honestly admits to the reader that changes have been made to the content. These footnotes certainly provide context to an audience that would not necessarily be privy to Poe’s beliefs and story, especially as the years progressed.
The book that caught my eye this week is The Baltimore Book, a collection of works by authors who lived in Baltimore for an extended period of time and were considered local talent. Among the stories collected within is Edgar Allan Poe’s “Siope, – A Fable.” The book is visually striking with its gold decoration on a black leather cover.
On the front cover, the Baltimore’s Battle Monument is depicted in gold. This monument is not only an aesthetic choice, but also one that is loyal to Baltimore natives. This monument commemorates a pivotal battle in the War of 1812, which was even more relevant for the intended buyers of this book in 1838.
The spine features large ornate type that assert this as “Baltimore Book 1838.” As the book was intended to be an end-of-year gift idea, it was actually printed in 1837 and sold as part of the new year. Above the title and year on the spine is a monument I cannot identify, but it is very interesting and beautiful. Below both of these, covering the lower 60% of the spine, is a gold rendering of the Washington Monument in the Mount Vernon District. It is a very lovely and detailed depiction of the monument and I can understand why they chose to put it in such a prominent place on the book. For a Baltimorean, it would be a sense of hometown pride and would, quite simply, convince more people to buy the volume. Continuing with the gold and black theme that is so visually pleasing on the cover, the page edges have the remnants of gold leaf on them. They still sparkle a bit in the light, but age has worn down the luster of the gold.
Within the book, two things are easily noticed. The first is that the pages show foxing from age and the lack of constant conditions for conservation. This can be attributed to the second thing which is quickly observed: the title page is imprinted with the stamp of the Peabody Library in Mount Vernon. The building is very old and does not have the conservation abilities of the book’s current home on the Homewood Campus.
Overall, the book is a lovely volume, both in its intent and the execution of that intent present in the aesthetic nature of the binding. Had I been around on New Year’s Day 1838, I would have loved to buy a copy of such a book.
In 1877 a school teacher and avid supporter of the movement to create a monument to Edgard Allen Poe in Baltimore published a book entitled “Edgar Allen Poe: A Memorial Volume.” Sara Sigourney Rice‘s book is comprised of several sections, each of which contribute to the memory of Poe in a different way.
I was drawn to the object by its bright blue cover. The cover is a gilded publisher’s binding. The typeface almost looks like that of an advertisement, but the decoration is very ornate. It makes sense that the book would be eye-catching considering Sara’s efforts to support the erection of a monument to Poe as well as supplement this monument with another physical manifestation of the appreciation she believed his poetry deserved.
What is most interesting about this book from the aesthetic perspective is the inclusion of correspondence. There are many facsimiles of letters to Poe printed in a section of the book entitled “Letters from Poets and Authors.” However, while some of them have been transcribed in the typeface of the rest of the book, the facsimile prints are almost entirely illegible. What, then, was the point of including them? Just as the book I analyzed in my first blog post was more important because of its existence rather than its actual function, it appears as though the fact that these letters were handwritten for Poe by famous authors and do exist in physical form is more important than what they might actually say. Several of them do not appear to include Poe’s name at all, as with the letter pictured below, but there must be a reason they were included. Simply the decision to include them gives them weight and importance. Furthermore, each section of the book has an introductory title page with a photograph, but this section begins with the page shown below, in which the section title written in a typeface that matches the ornate, rich letters and decorations on the cover. Why is this section, the one section of the book that literally cannot be read, the most important? Once again, these letters have more to do with Poe’s existence and his relations to others than what was actually said as emblematic of his importance in memorializing his life in general.
Rice, Sara Sigourney. Edgar Allan Poe: A Memorial Volume, Baltimore: Turnbull Brothers, 1877.
In 1845, Wiley and Putnam published a compilation of twelve of Edgar Allan Poe’s best-loved stories. Tales was so popular that Wiley and Putnam bound the 1845 issue of Tales with The Raven and Other Poems to create a single volume. Speculation exists that this combined edition was printed around February 1846.
The picture above shows a page from the combined volume of Poe’s Tales and The Raven and Other Poems from the Special Collections at the Sheridan Libraries of Johns Hopkins University. An inscription on the first page of this copy indicates that it was given to Leonard Mackall, a bibliophile and scholar, in 1846. Furthermore, this inscription notes that this volume was a re-issue. Published during Poe’s lifetime, this edition represents a piece of unique history, as Poe would have been able to influence the publishing process. While Poe’s Tales lacks a preface and dedication, Poededicated The Raven and Other Poems to Miss Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, an English poet from whom Poe borrowed the meter and rhyme scheme for The Raven.
Mackall’s copy remains in decent condition. The endpapers are printed in a green design of stars and dots. The imprint on the title page lists the publisher’s information and the publication date of 1845 in large clear type. This edition utilizes a library binding covered in a faded green cloth with a vinyl texture, and an intricate geometric pattern occupies the cover. While this item remains intact, the spine is faded from sun damage, and foxing, evident in the picture above, exists on most pages.
What constitutes a travel narrative – fact or fiction? To Edgar Allan Poe, it may have been fiction posing as fact.
Pictured above is the cover page of Poe’s first and only full length novel – entitled The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym [pseud.] of Nantucket, North America: Comprising Details of Mutiny, Famine, and Shipwreck, During a Voyage to the South Seas; Resulting in Various Extraordinary Adventures and Discoveries in the Eighty-Fourth Parallel of Southern Latitude – in which he describes the journey of a young Nantucket man stowed away on a whaling ship.
Published in July of 1838, the book opened up to mixed reviews – with a number of critics mistaking the novel for a real life voyage. Many publishers and libraries included a note in future printings of the book, alerting readers that the narrative was in fact fictitious and that many critics had unjustly reviewed the novel accordingly. The book went on to inspire many other authors, including Herman Melville, in his famous novel Moby Dick, and French science fiction author Jules Verne, in his sequel An Antarctic Mystery. Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges even went on to call The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, “Poe’s greatest work.”
The copy owned by the Johns Hopkins Rare Book Collection is a first edition 1839 English printing by publisher Wiley and Putnam, featuring a trade binding with a board cover and hunter green cloth overlay. The cover also contains intricate floral detail, accompanied by inlaid gold print along the spine and a glue binding. As demonstrated by the imprint on the title page, Poe did not assume authorship over the piece during its first English printing and decided instead to publish under a pseudonym. The common typeface and plain paper present the book as a classic travel narrative, one written by an unknown author named Pym. The lack of end papers and illustrations, along with no frontispiece, further deny the book any artistic and fictional complexity. As a result, the confusion over the book’s genre – memoir or fiction – was abetted by its plain publication form, which lacked the visual and material clues necessary for its readers to decipher its validity. Poe later deemed The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym a “silly” book, which makes the reader question whether or not Poe intended to trick his audience or whether it was an unforeseen, almost comical byproduct.
One of the many rare books in the Sheridan Library’s Special Collections, this volume of Edgar Allan Poe’s Gothic tales gives interested audiences a peek into the literary tradition in other countries. Not merely popular in his homeland, Poe’s works traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to France, where Charles Baudelaire (best known for his collection of poems Fleurs du Maland famous in his own right) translated several of Poe’s tales. Though Baudelaire died in 1867, his translation was so celebrated that it became the French translation of Poe’s work. This novelty edition, shown above, was published several decades after Baudelaire’s death by Éditions Nilsson in 1929 in Paris. Loosely titled Histoires Extraordinaires or “Extraordinary Stories”, it contains 6 stories (“Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Purloined Letter,” “The Gold-bug,” “The Balloon Hoax,” “M.S. in a Bottle,” and “A Descent into the Maelström”) over the span of 190 pages.
Histoires Extraordinaires is beautifully illustrated by Jean Dratz, whose original “aquarelles,” or transparent water color drawings, serve as the prototype for the illustrations; instead of individually drawn illustrations, colored or chromo-lithographic plates have been pasted into the text of the stories. These plates layer each color coat by coat through mechanized pressings, though outlines and fine detail work are occasionally done by hand. The expense that was invested in this deluxe volume of tales, seen in these colored pictures and the uncut tops of the quarto-sized pages, suggests a rarity and desirability that was felt even at the time of publication, or the time of purchase. While exquisitely preserved except for faint water discoloration on the front cover, the uncut pages make this book impossible to read. Indeed, it is only by carefully bowing the uncut final pages that one can make out the colophon. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful example of transplanted and translated literature that provides archivists and historians much material to mine.
 Which tells us that this particular copy was printed on March 29, 1929 at the Imprimerie Ramlot at 52 Avenue du Maine in Paris.