It is considered the rarest — and hence, most valuable — book in American literature. At first glance, it doesn’t look very impressive: it is a small, pocket-sized poetry book, only 40 pages long, that was self-published in Boston in 1827 by an anonymous author (the book credits “A Bostonian” as the author). It was a very small run for a first edition: only 50 copies were printed.
The title of the work is not well-known: Tamerlane and Other Poems. Tamerlane, the main poem consisting of 403 lines, tells the story of a 14th century warrior who chooses power over love, and later in life comes to regret that decision. The book contains eight other poems.
“Who is that mysterious author?” you ask. That would be the master of mystery and macabre, Edgar Allan Poe. Today, there are only 12 copies in existence. “[It is] the Holy Grail of 19th-century American literature or American poetry,” states rare-book specialist Francis Wahlgren. So just how valuable is this Holy Grail? In December 2009 a privately owned copy was sold at auction in New York for $662,500. The copy was sold by William Self, a former television and movie producer who purchased the book for $150,000 back in 1990. For most of the time he owned it, Self kept the book in a bank safety deposit box. It is not clear who purchased the copy, but Self preferred that a Poe aficionado would own the book: “Being a private collector myself, I always felt shut out when big universities or something would come in. It would be nice if somebody were to like Poe and would be able to get his book.”
Since all twelve copies are now spoken for, it will be some time before any of them comes up for auction. And one can only imagine how much the value of this rare book will increase. Will anyone be able to afford it? Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
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For further reading: http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2009-12-04/entertainment/bal-ae.poe04dec04_1_tamerlane-and-other-poems-poe-collection-edgar-allan-poe