Check List of the Correspondence of Edgar Allan Poe — Introduction


Introduction to the Check List

The present Check List is a revision and an expansion of Ostrom's A Check List of Letters to and from Poe (published as No. 4 in the Bibliographical Series sponsored by the Alderman Library of the University of Virginia, 1941) and subsequent editions (1948, 1966, 1974, and 1981). As a result of considerable study and analysis of Poe's correspondence and various other resources, the original list has been essentially eclipsed, and even the revised versions have now been supplanted. (The present Check List was originally developed as a web-based version of Ostrom's 1981 “Revised Check List,” with numerous corrections made by Jeffrey A. Savoye. That corrected and improved Check List was incorporated in the 2008 edition of The Collected Letters of Edgar Allan Poe.) For persons working on Poe, the Check List provides various groups of data of special interest, including: identification of Poe's correspondents, letters suspected of being forgeries, library and institutional holdings of MS letters (or copies), private collections of MS letters (and transcripts or other noteworthy copies), and known selling prices of MS letters.

The Check List includes all letters known to have been written by Poe or to him, arranged chronologically and indexed by both correspondents and owners. Entries that have been re-dated or reassigned from previous editions are left in their original place as a reference to the new entry. For the benefit of researchers, a separate section is provided for spurious, deleted, fake (forgery or hoax), misdated, and doubtful letters. An example entry follows:

1843 - Aug. 26


Poe (Philadelphia, PA) to E. Holden (Philadelphia, PA). Charles Hamilton Autographs cat., 23 July 1970, item 268 (F); L [1974], p. 521-522. MS at TxU-Hu. SH $5,250 (1970). (LTR74-161a // CL74-447a.)

Each entry is assigned a Check List number (right column), and includes (when known) the date of the letter (left column), and in the middle: 1) the names and locations of the writer and recipient; 2) the source for the entry, with a history of printings and important citations of the letter; 3) the present location of the MS, using MARC codes (see the index); 4) the recorded sales history, with the price and year of sale; 5) an abbreviated history of the item's appearance in The Letters. In the example given, the Check List number is 447a. The date of the letter is August 26. (Only the month and day are given for the entry. The year appears as a section header, also repeated at the top of each subsequent page.) The letter was written by Poe to Ezra Holden. Both writer and recipient were in Philadelphia, PA. The letter was first printed in the catalog of Charles Hamilton, where it was item 268 and a facsimile was given. It was then printed in the 1974 supplement for The Letters, on pages 521-522. The MS is currently located in the Humanities Research Center of the University of Texas at Austin (MARC code TxU-Hu). It was sold in 1970 for $5,250. It first appeared in The Letters in the 1974 supplement, where it was assigned the letter code of LTR-161a and the Check List code of CL-447a. Neither code has been reassigned up through the present edition.

The phrase “MS unlocated” is used only for items where the existence of a MS has been recorded in print or by transcript, and for which the MS might plausibly still survive, excluding letters that are merely cited or implied. A letter is “cited” if it is specifically mentioned, as in “I received yours of the 26th,” while “implied” is used if another letter is merely suggested, chiefly by the tone or substance of the surviving letter. Also noted are the assigned letter numbers from this edition for Poe letters and Check List numbers from prior lists (see the list of Special Abbreviations for the Check List, at the end of this introduction). For each entry, the edition specified reflects the year of publication in which the letter number was initially set or newly assigned. Likewise, the Check List number from prior lists reflects the edition of the Check List in which the entry was initially assigned or reassigned. The chief purpose of this information is to assist researchers attempting to identify entries noted in books and articles which use these older reference values (as being then contemporary).

Poe appears to have maintained a relatively large correspondence, with approximately 1034 items identified. (The authenticity of about a dozen entries may be questioned.) The Check List shows that Poe wrote at least 553 letters, of which over 130 are lost. Only four manuscripts seem to have come down to the present day but are still unlocated and unprinted. Also included are letters for which no original or printed source is known to exist but which seem acceptable upon satisfactory evidence, these items being explained as “cited” or “implied.” A few are included with reservations, as noted in the appropriate entries. A study of all available sources shows also that at least 483 letters, established by original manuscripts, printed versions, and internal evidence, were written to Poe. These do not include letters, presumably lost, that were written to him purely as editor of a magazine or in connection with his attempt to found the Penn or the Stylus. A few of these “to the editor” letters appeared, or were referred to, in such periodicals as the Southern Literary Messenger, Graham's, and Alexander's Weekly Messenger, but they have been included in the computation only selectively. It also follows that Poe wrote letters, now lost, in reply to such correspondents and to subscribers to his proposed magazine, but these have been included only when such a reply is documented.

Poe's fame has guaranteed high prices and prominence for his manuscripts. (Regrettably, it has also provided strong incentives to forgers and disreputable dealers.) Letters written to Poe have benefited somewhat from this association, but to a much lesser extent than MSS in his own hand. Many of Poe's letters have been mutilated for the sake of autograph collectors. Auction catalogs offer an invaluable record of the history of manuscripts, but their ephemeral nature has made them often scarce in their own rights. When these catalogs survive at all, they are typically relegated to long-term or otherwise inaccessible storage in museums and libraries, with a few especially significant examples maintained in special collections. Since 1895, American Book-Prices Current has documented US auction sales, originally indexed and later arranged by subject. It focuses on books, but also includes some MS material of special interest. Although this reference work understandably contains errors, it is generally reliable and proves extremely useful as an index to the auctions held since September 24, 1894. (There are also omissions — through error, oversight or reasons undocumented — such as the Parke-Bernet sale of November 1, 1950 of the collection of Oliver Barrett, with several Poe MSS.) Auction catalogs prior to 1895 have had to rely on intrepid researchers or chance to come to light, but Poe letters seem to have had little public transfer of owners prior to about 1880, instead being held by the original owners or passed down through their families.

Since the original edition of The Letters in 1948, three very valuable and extensive private collections that included MS letters have been transferred to institutions (two by gift, one by purchase), and a fourth has been broken up and sold at auction. Since 1957 the collection of Mr. J. K. Lilly, Jr., of Indianapolis, has been in the Lilly Library, Indiana University. The library of Mr. William H. Koester, of Baltimore, was sold in 1966 and is now in the possession of the Humanities Research Center of the University of Texas at Austin. About 1974, the collection of Richard Gimbel, with such treasures as the manuscripts of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Raven,” was permanently transferred to the Free Library of Philadelphia. In 1990, the collection of H. Bradley Martin was put on the auction block by Sotheby's in New York, and was thus broken up among various collectors.

Although Poe's life was spent almost entirely within two hundred miles of the Atlantic coast, in an area bounded on the north by Boston, and on the south by Charleston, the letters of his correspondence have found their way into library crypts as far removed from one another as Boston from San Marino, California, and Charleston from Austin, Texas. Some have even crossed the ocean. Distance, therefore, becomes a veritable wasteland thwarting the progress of the questing knight; and were it not for the generous cooperation of the keepers of original scripts, the armored knight or the editorial squire would be forced to cease his quest, unsuccessful. To them, the editors express their profound gratitude.

Additional corrections to the present Check List are solicited, and may be provided through the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore.


Special Abbreviations for the Check List:

  • CL — Check List cross reference, in the present edition (Entries are noted by number, example: “CL-485”)
  • CL08 — Check List entry newly assigned in the 2008 edition (Entries are noted by number, example: “CL08-741a”)
  • CL41 — Check List entry newly assigned in the 1941 Check List (Entries are noted by number, example: “CL41-264”)
  • CL48 — Check List entry newly assigned in the 1948 edition (Entries are noted by number, example: “CL48-319”) Some entries are given in the 1948 Check List without number, and these have been assigned a relative value, given in square brackets (example: “CL48-[323a]”)
  • CL66 — Check List entry newly assigned in the 1966 supplement (Entries are noted by number, example: “CL66-137”)
  • CL74 — Check List entry newly assigned in the 1974 supplement (Entries are noted by number, example: “CL74-147a”)
  • CL81 — Check List entry newly assigned in the 1981 Revised Check List (Entries are noted by number, example: “CL81-160a”)
  • (F) — A facsimile of the MS is present in the source cited. If only part of the MS is given, the code will appear as (F, partial).
  • LTR08 — Letter newly assigned in the 2008 edition (Entries are noted by number, example: “LTR08-51b”)
  • LTR48 — Letter newly assigned in the 1948 edition (Entries are noted by number, example: “LTR48-37”)
  • LTR66 — Letter newly assigned in the 1966 supplement (Entries are noted by number, example: “LTR66-126a”)
  • LTR74 — Letter newly assigned in the 1974 supplement (Entries are noted by number, example: “LTR74-69b”)
  • SH — Sales history
  • SP — Check List of spurious items cross reference, in the present edition (Entries are noted by number, example: “SP-10”)
  • SP08 — Check List of spurious items entry newly assigned in the 2008 edition (Entries are noted by number, example: “SP08-5”)
  • SPR08 — Spurious letter newly assigned in the 2008 edition (Entries are noted by number, example: “SPR08-21”)

Because several of the abbreviations (such as CL41) incorporate a reference to various editions of The Letters or the Check List, the reader may find useful the summary history of these editions in the Preface. Spurious items were added beginning with the present edition, but adopting a similar approach of using the year of publication as part of the coding system should prove useful for future editions.

Locations codes use the Library of Congress MARC (Machine-Readable Cataloging) designation, where such a code has been assigned. (These MARC codes are given as entries in the Index to the Check List.) Other abbreviations and short names follow those used in the rest of the edition.



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