Text: Edgar Allan Poe to Charles Ellis, Sr. — September 26, 1836 (LTR-74a)


Dr Sir

Do you think you could oblige me so far as to let me have the amount of $ 50 in dry goods upon a credit of 4 months? If so, I would be greatly indebted to you, and my aunt will call down to choose such articles as she may wish.

very respy  
Edgar A Poe

Mr Charles Ellis
  Septem. 26, 1836



Charles Ellis Sr. opened a dry goods store in Richmond, VA about November 30, 1830. (Dry goods was a general category of textiles, clothing and miscellaneous items of a related nature, such as buttons and thread.) An 1851 issue of Thomson's Mercantile and Professional Directory includes an advertisement showing that the firm of Thomas & Charles Ellis had its place of business at 106 Main St. (p. 233). The dry goods store is noted as being on the first floor of the building, and the second floor sold hardware. (In 1836, the offices of the Southern Literary Messenger was on Main Street, near N. 15th Street, opposite the Bell Tavern. The adoption of street numbers only at a later date, with periodical renumbering over the years, makes it difficult to establish precise locations, but Ellis's dry goods store appears to have been very close to the Messenger offices.)

Although Poe was married to Virginia Clemm on May 16, 1836, officially making Mrs. Clemm his mother-in-law, he appears to have continued to refer to her as “my aunt” for some time aftewards, as he did in a letter to John P. Kennedy of June 7, 1836.

The authenticity of this letter is not absolutely established. It first appeared at a sale by RR Auction for November 16, 2012. Although not printed in the catalog, Bill White of RR Auction provided a useful following provenance for the letter. It was purchased by Anita McCormick Blaine (1866-1954) in the 1890s from autograph dealer Walter Benjamin. Mrs. Blaine was the heiress to inventor and industrialist Cyrus Hall McCormick, and daughter-in-law of US Secretary of State James G. Blaine. Along with autographs of various american authors and political figures, including Jefferson and Adams, the letter remained in Mrs. Blaine's family until it was sold through RR Auction. Although it is not clear how Mr. Benjamin acquired the letter, perhaps from the Ellis family, the early date conveniently establishes its existence long before the 1930s, the period when Joseph Cosey was most active as a forger. It also explains why the letter was unknown to Poe scholars until it surfaced in 2012.

The letter is folded twice horizontally to form three equal-sized panels. On the back of the middle panel, the letter is addressed only:

Mr Charles Ellis Sr


indicating that the letter was delivered by hand rather than through the mail. There is, therefore, no postmark. At this time, Poe was working as an editor at the Southern Literary Messenger and perhaps sent the note by way of a low-level employee of the magazine. Although Mrs. Clemm often delivered notes for Poe, the reference to her clearly rules her out as delivering the letter in this case. The trace of a wax seal is evident to the left side of the lowest panel of the letter, perhaps because Poe considered the financial request a private matter, one not for the eyes of the person carrying the letter, or the hands of whatever clerk or other functionary might take the letter for Ellis.


[S:0 - MS, 1836] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Letters - Poe to C. Ellis Sr. (LTR228a/RCL626)