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Edgar Allan Poe

An Inventory of His Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Poe, Edgar Allan, 1809-1849
Title: Edgar Allan Poe Collection
Dates: 1766-1974 (bulk 1829-1850)
Extent: 13 document boxes, 1 oversize box, 3 galley folders, and 9 oversize folders (5.46 linear feet)
Abstract: The Poe Collection contains several manuscript works and about seventy letters written by Poe, while the bulk of the collection consists of correspondence and works about him.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-03283
Language: English; a few items in French
Access: Open for research. Digital surrogates for all of the exhibit items are available onsite at the Ransom Center and many are available online at

Administrative Information

Provenance The Harry Ransom Center acquired its collection of Poeana largely through the purchase of the James H. Whitty and William H. Koester collections. Two of the most active American gatherers of Poe materials, Whitty and Koester are thought to have held the largest private collections of Poeana anywhere. James H. Whitty pulled together an impressive collection of Poe-related materials including many letters, signatures, receipts, and contextual working materials which he used in writing The Complete Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (1911) and The Genius and Character of Edgar Allan Poe (1929). William H. Koester began collecting Poeana in the early 1930s. He completed over sixty purchases of signed letters, poems, essays, and short stories, as well as the Whitty Collection, acquiring between 1934 and 1947 most of the original Poe materials available for sale. He obtained two unpublished letters and variants of two critical essays by the time of his last purchase in 1962. The University of Texas at Austin acquired the Whitty-Koester collection in 1966. Additional Poe materials have been purchased at auction, from book dealers, and from private individuals. A few items in the collection were originally included in the Wrenn and Hanley collections.
Electronic Format: Digital surrogates of all original manuscripts and letters by Edgar Allan Poe are available in the Edgar Allan Poe Digital Collection at, along with selected additional Poe-related documents, manuscripts, and letters from this collection, as well as art, books, ephemera, personal effects, photographs, and sheet music from other Ransom Center collections.
Acquisition: Purchases, 1960-1969 (R162, R2915, R3082, R3370, R3844, R3889, R4303, R5390)
Processed by: Chelsea Jones, 1998; revised by Joan Sibley, 2009

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

Edgar Poe was born in Boston, January 19, 1809, the second child of Eliza Arnold Poe, a well-known actress, and David Poe, Jr., also an actor. Early in 1810, David Poe abandoned his family; nothing is known of his fate. Later that same year Eliza gave birth to her third child, Rosalie. By the summer of 1811, Eliza's health was failing and she died on December 8, 1811, in Richmond, Virginia, at the age of twenty-four. The eldest son went to live with the Poe family in Baltimore, the infant daughter went to a Richmond family named MacKenzie, and Edgar was taken in by John and Frances (Fanny) Allan.
John Allan, a partner in the trading firm The House of Ellis and Allan, promised to provide Edgar with a liberal education and he certainly provided the boy with a standard of living superior to the one to which he had been accustomed. The House of Ellis and Allan was prospering so well that in 1815 they decided to open an office in London. Six-and-a-half-year-old Edgar accompanied John and Fanny to England where he attended several boarding schools. After a slow beginning, the London offices seemed to be doing well. However, in 1819 the bottom fell out of the tobacco market, the business was ruined, and the family returned to Virginia in 1820.
As John Allan sought to regain his financial footing, Edgar continued his schooling, doing well in Latin, French, and sports, often leading the other boys in games and battle drills. Poe faced many of the psychological problems associated with orphans--feelings of abandonment and a need to not just succeed, but to win--and the fact that John Allan never formally adopted him seems to have added to his emotional issues.
In 1825 a wealthy relative died and left a large fortune to John Allan, immediately solving his business and financial woes. In 1826 Poe entered the University of Virginia, then in its second year. Poe acquitted himself well as a student, studying ancient and modern languages, but also ran up debts which added to the growing friction between himself and Allan. Poe wished to remain at the University beyond the usual one-year term, but Allan refused, wishing instead for Poe to settle himself in some business. After a series of angry clashes, Poe left the Allan home in Richmond and went to Boston. Finding it difficult to support himself, Poe enlisted in the Army. He remained there for two years, reaching the rank of Sergeant Major for artillery, before deciding that he had had enough. He sought Allan's aid in obtaining a discharge but help came grudgingly and only after Poe declared his intention to attend West Point.
Poe's term at West Point lasted just a year, from March of 1830 to March of 1831. He performed well in the beginning, but late in the year John Allan remarried (Fanny Allan had died while Edgar was in the army) and wrote to Poe stating his wish for an end to their relationship. These events affected Poe's desire for the military life and he set about getting himself court-martialed and discharged from West Point. From there he went to New York City. In April he made his way to Baltimore to seek aid from the remaining members of his father's family. He moved in with his aunt, Maria Clemm and her daughter, Virginia. Over the next three years little is known about Poe's activities. He had difficulty supporting himself, he may have been briefly engaged, or at least attached, to a young woman whose family objected, and he spent time with his brother who was also living in Baltimore. He also wrote a great deal. He had been writing steadily over the previous ten years, publishing two small pamphlets at his own expense, and his goal became making a living with his writing.
In 1834 Poe married his cousin Virginia, who was not quite fourteen at the time, and began seriously seeking a means of supporting "his family." In the spring of 1835, the family moved back to Richmond where Poe took a position with the Southern Literary Messenger. Poe used the opportunity to publish several of his poems and short tales in the paper, but he also began developing his reputation as a pugnacious critic by contributing scathing reviews of popular contemporary authors. In 1837 Poe left his position as editor of the Messenger by mutual agreement with the owner after a number of disagreements over Poe's vicious articles.
Poe spent the rest of his life attempting to establish himself as a creditable force on the American literary scene. He tried to start his own literary paper on several occasions, but when that failed he continued to work for other papers in the capacity of critic and editor, most notably Burton's Gentleman's Magazine in Philadelphia (1839-1840) and The Broadway Journal in New York (1845). Poe's desire to be in charge, his vituperative critical attacks on people he disliked or disagreed with, coupled with an ongoing problem with alcohol made it difficult for him to maintain a long-term working relationship with magazine owners and editors.
In 1847 Virginia Poe died after a long battle with tuberculosis. Poe was devastated. Suffering ill-health himself, and beaten down after his long battle with poverty, he continued to write and lecture, but his mental state seemed to decline. He was found unconscious on a street in Baltimore in the fall of 1849 and he died on October 7. A brief obituary in the Baltimore Clipper reported that he died of "congestion of the brain." It has been assumed by most scholars that alcoholism killed Poe, but a new theory which is gaining credence speculates that Poe actually died of rabies.


Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991.

Scope and Contents

Scope and Contents

Poems, essays, correspondence, and catalogs make up the bulk of the Edgar Allan Poe Collection, 1766-1974 (bulk 1829-1850). The collection is organized into two series: I. Poe Works and Letters, 1829-1911, and II. Materials about Poe and His Works, 1766-1974. This collection has been re-cataloged as part of a retrospective conversion project.
The Poe Works and Letters series contains about fifteen works mostly handwritten by Poe, some of which are fragments and all of which are from the last fourteen years of his life. About seventy letters written by Poe are also present, spanning 1829-1849 and readily demonstrating Poe's wide range of correspondents. Most of the letters are personal, though many include details of business and pleas for loans. Many of Poe's letters and works are accompanied by correspondence between book dealers and William Koester, descriptions of the items as they appeared in auction or sale catalogues, and other provenance information.
Materials about Poe and His Works is a broad-ranging series which encompasses a large number of letters between friends, relatives, collectors, and critics of Poe. While not all of the correspondence is specifically about Poe, it provides context for his life. Also included in this series are a number of works, most about Poe's life and work, but also some contextual works. Additionally, there are many items of Poe ephemera, much of it collected by James Whitty, as well as a number of items withdrawn from books donated by Poe scholars and fans, and a few forgeries which were at one time attributed to Poe.

Series Descriptions

Series I. Poe Works and Letters, 1829-1911
The Poe Works and Letters series is divided into four subseries: A. Works, 1835-1911; B. Letters, 1829-1849; C. Legal Documents, 1841-1848; and D. Personal Effects. Because each work and letter in this series is described individually in the following container list, there are no separate indexes of Poe works or correspondents included in this guide. "Moldenhauer numbers" (e.g. M1, M2, etc.) are included in the following container list; these numbers correlate with detailed bibliographical descriptions that appear in Joseph J. Moldenhauer's A Descriptive Catalog of Edgar Allan Poe Manuscripts in the Humanities Research Center Library (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973).
The Works subseries, arranged alphabetically by title, includes fourteen complete and partial critical essays written by Poe as well as two long tales and six drafts and copies of poems. A complete version of The Domain of Arnheim, written on small pieces of paper connected together and then rolled into two scrolls, is particularly noteworthy as is a published copy of The Raven and Other Poems with corrections and revisions by Poe. Other complete pieces include handwritten and typescript versions of "The Spectacles," a Valentine's Day poem to Miss Olivia Hunter, and an essay on American poetesses. Fragmentary pieces of other works are also present, including segments of a proposed critical work to have been called Literary America, as well as some pieces associated with Marginalia, and a fair copy of the last stanza of "The Raven." A unique and particularly beautiful item, Selected Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, is an illuminated manuscript containing "The Raven," "The Bells," and "Lenore," produced and bound by Messrs. Robert Riviere & Son in 1911.
The Letters subseries contains seventy-one letters or fragments of letters written by Poe between 1829 and 1849. While the majority of the letters are personal correspondence, many of the letters carry a business-like tone as Poe frequently sought financial support from his friends and acquaintances, either in an effort to start a new project or merely for subsistence. The recipients of this correspondence include Charles Bristed, George Eveleth, George Graham, Horace Greeley, Rufus Griswold, Sarah J. Hale, John P. Kennedy, Estelle Anna Lewis, John Neal, Frances S. Osgood, Frederick W. Thomas, Sarah Helen Whitman, and others. This subseries also includes a single letter received by Poe, from Nathaniel Parker Willis.
The small Legal Documents subseries includes several promissory notes signed by Poe to various friends and business partners including John W. Albright, John Bisco, and L. A. Godey, as well as contracts signed with John Bisco and G. P. Putnam.
The Personal Effects subseries includes a lock of Poe's hair and a file of letters and certified documents authenticating a desk used by Poe when he worked for the Southern Literary Messenger.
Series II. Materials about Poe and His Works, 1766-1974
The Materials about Poe and His Works series is divided into four subseries: A. Works about Poe, 1766-1973; B. Correspondence about Poe, 1780-1974; C. Poe Ephemera and Book Withdrawals; and D. Poe Forgeries. Some of this material is, at best, loosely associated with Poe, and represents the collecting proclivities of Whitty and Koester.
The Works about Poe subseries, arranged alphabetically by author, contains Hervey Allen's Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe, Julian Hawthorne's "My Adventure with Edgar Allan Poe," Thomas Mabbott's thesis New Light on Poe: Additional Notes on the Poems Prior to 1831, and Walt Whitman's essay "Edgar Poe's Significance." In addition to writings specifically about Poe there are a number of poems by Poe's contemporaries and a few items which provide historical context for Poe's life. These include a 1781 petition signed by David Poe, a contract for the sale of land by Joseph Logan in 1818, poems by Estelle Lewis, and John Ambler's last will and testament (1766). Also present in this section are several works describing the Whitty and Koester collections. Individual items in this section are listed in the Index of Works by Other Authors in this guide.
The Correspondence about Poe subseries contains materials specifically relating to Poe as well as to the collection of his writings. For example, William Griswold carried on extensive correspondence with George Woodberry concerning a proposed book, The Life of Edgar Allan Poe, which was never written, and several letters were written to Griswold seeking to purchase his Poe materials. There are also a few letters from people associated with Poe, such as John Allan and Maria Clemm, which are present because of that association, rather than any specific references to Poe in the letters. Some of the more notable correspondents in this section include Charles Baudelaire, Charles Dickens, Horace Greeley, William Griswold, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John P. Kennedy, William Koester, David Poe, Edmund Stedman, James H. Whitty, George Woodberry, and others. Individual letter writers are listed in the Index of Correspondents in this guide.
Poe Ephemera and Book Withdrawals includes booksellers' descriptions of Poe materials, letterhead and bills from hotels Poe stayed in (not bills to Poe), notes and letters found in collections of books by and about Poe donated to the Ransom Center, and a collection of receipts and signatures of people connected to Poe or who are otherwise well known. A list of the authors of these signatures and receipts is included in this guide.
The final subseries is Poe Forgeries. This section contains two letters and one poem which were previously attributed to Poe, but which have since been identified as forgeries. The poem "The Lady Hubbard" was printed in Godey's Magazine in December 1849 along with a letter, dated April 1, 1849, and both were attributed to Poe. The second letter, addressed to Thomas Warren Field and dated August 9, 1845, was copied from either the facsimile reproduced on the cover of the William E. Benjamin catalogue (No. 30, April 1890), a rare catalogue of Poe materials, or possibly from the original letter. The original letter was most recently located in the Bradley Martin Collection, New York.

Related Material

Other materials associated with Poe may be found in the following collections at the Ransom Center:
  • Campbell, Killis
  • Gardner, Erle Stanley
  • Lake, Carlton/Poe, Edgar Allan
  • Lake, Carlton/Stein, Gertrude
  • Lowell, J. R.
  • Queen, Ellery
  • Varner, John Grier

Separated Material

Elsewhere in the Ransom Center, there are over one hundred photographs of Poe, his family, friends, and collectors located in the Literary Files of the Photography Collection, as well as a large number of Poe-related art pieces in the Art Collection. Poe books and also sheet music with musical settings of Poe poems are present in the Library. A number of newspapers which contain Poe contributions are preserved in their entirety and descriptions can be accessed in the University's online catalog by searching "Newspaper KPO" as "Other Call Number." An extensive collection of newspaper clippings covering the publication and criticism of Poe's work, other printed ephemera, and five scrapbooks are present in the Center's Vertical File Collection. The Personal Effects Collection includes a desk used by Poe along with several other artifacts.

Index Terms


Allan, John, 1779-1834
Allen, Hervey, 1889-1949
Baudelaire, Charles, 1821-1867
Clemm, Maria, 1790-1871
Dickens, Charles, 1812-1870
Didier, Eugene Lemoine, 1838-1913
Dodgson, Charles Lutwidge, 1832-1898
Greeley, Horace, 1811-1872
Griswold, W. M. (William Maccrillis), 1853-1899
Ingram, John Henry, 1842-1916
Lewis, Estelle Anna Robinson, 1824-1880
Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth, 1807-1882
Minor, Benjamin Blake, 1818-1905
Stedman, Edmund Clarence, 1833-1908
Varner, John Grier
Weiss, Susan Archer Talley, 1835-
Whitman, Sarah Helen, 1803-1878
Woodberry, George Edward, 1855-1930


American literature
Fiction--19th century
Mystery and detective stories

Document Types

Galley proofs
Legal instruments


Koester, William H.
Whitty, J. H. (James Howard), 1859-1937

Container List