Text: Edgar Allan Poe to A. S. Cummings — July 4, 1840 (LTR-096a)


Philadelphia July 4, 1840


Your letter of June the ninth, postmarked June the twenty-second, reached me only this morning, on account of my temporary absence from Philadelphia. I now hasten to acknowledge my high sense of the honor conferred upon me by the Philomathaean Society of which you are Secretary.

Your personal influence with the institution in behalf of the “Penn Magazine” (of which I forward a Prospectus) I would esteem a very great favor — as the patronage of such bodies is always of the highest importance in all enterprises of the kind.

Very respy.
Yr ob. St
Edgar A. Poe  

A. S. Cummings Esqr Corr. Sec. Philom. Soc.



This letter, virtually unseen for over 100 years, was sold on eBay, the online auction service, on May 24, 2001 for $15,000. During the auction, it was authenticated by me, based on the handwriting, signature, contents and especially the connection to the Philomathaean Society, as noted in Poe's list. I examined the letter first hand about the same time. It is written in brown ink on one side of a standard piece of off-white paper, perhaps the blank leaf of a prospectus, measuring 9 5/8 inches high by 7 7/8 inches wide. There are the usual four folds, with two across the letter in each direction, and minor tearing in some parts of the folds. In general, the letter is in remarkable condition, and the writing is quite well preserved. (One unusually dramatic flair in the writing of this letter appears in the abbreviation for Philomathaean, under the name of A. S. Cummings. Poe first wrote “Philo,” returned to dot the “i” and then dragged the pen through the “l,” making it look a little like a “t,” and continued to make the “m” at the end, all in one grand sweep.) Although it is pasted to the page in the book, it is clear that there is no address or postmark on the reverse. Instead, it appears that the letter was folded inside of the prospectus noted in the text, and that the address was written on the back of the prospectus. The prospectus itself, regrettably, no longer accompanies the letter, but just visible on the reverse side of the letter, at the top of the page, one can see a faint transfer image of “PROSPECTUS OF THE PENN MAGAZINE.” This bold heading distinguishes the particular version of the prospectus, making it identical to the one Poe send to Charles West Thomson on June 28, 1840, reproduced by Joseph Moldenhauer, A Descriptive Catalog of Edgar Allan Poe Manuscripts in the Humanities Research Center Library, The University of Texas at Austin, 1973, p. 46 and Jacob Blanck, Bibliography of American Literature, VII, between pp. 116-117 (BAL 16134A). Poe also sent a copy of the same prospectus to J. E. Snodgrass (June 17, 1840) and a variety of newspapers. A slightly revised version of the prospectus, with a noticeably different heading, was mailed to William Poe (August 14, 1840), Washington Poe (August 15, 1840), Joseph B. Boyd (August 20, 1840) and Thomas Holley Chivers (ca. August 20, 1840).

The letter was part of a collection of autographs apparently accumulated about 1872 by Rev. Benjamin W. Tomlinson (a Lutheran minister), of Bedford, Bedford County, Pennsylvania, and pasted into the pages of a salesman dummy for Night Scenes of the Bible, Illustrated. (The actual book was printed in 1869.) Several other letters, including one from Washington Irving (April 21, 1839), Horace Greeley (undated) and George R. Perkins (January 25, 1850) thank the society for making the correspondents honorary members, which is almost certainly the same honor to which Poe refers. Other autographs of literary notables with Poe associations include Thomas Dunn English, Joseph Evans Snodgrass, Nathan Covington Brooks, John N. McJilton, Fitz- Greene Halleck, John Pendleton Kennedy, Charles West Thomson, Robert Montgomery Bird, George Pope Morris and John Lloyd Stephens.

Tomlinson's association with the Philomathaean Society is unclear, although he obviously had substantial access to the archives of the society since most of the autographs seem to have come from that source. Whether he removed these letters and signatures with or without permission is unknown. The book, and the many autographs it contains, was acquired by Stewart Claycomb at an uncertain date. Stewart Claycomb gave it to Foster F. Claycomb on August 15, 1945. It remained in Foster Claycomb's possession until his death on December 25, 2000, at the age of 96. The sale on eBay was part of the liquidation of his estate, for the benefit of charity. The current owner is a private collector.

Additional details:

Benjamin Wesley Tomlinson was born June 11, 1848 in Napier Township, Bedford County, PA. He attended Pennsylvania College 1870-1871, and was a member of the Philomathaean Society. He continued his studies at the Seminary at Gettysburg, from which he graduated on June 27, 1876. He was licenced as a minister in 1876, serving in Florence, PA and at St. John's Evangelical Church in Lockport, NY. Three of his brothers were also ministers. He died from typhoid fever on April 8, 1880, and was buried in the cemetery of Messiah Evangelical Lutheran Church in Dutch Corner, PA.

Stewart Claycomb was born on March 3, 1876, and lived in Pleasantville, Bedford County, PA. He died on May 26, 1952. Foster F. Claycomb, his son, was born July 7, 1904. The Claycombs were Lutheran, and may have known the Tomlinson family.

Rev. P. A. Strobel (compiler and editor), “Rev. B. W. Tomlinson,” Memorial Volume to Commemorate the Semi-Centennial Anniversary of the Hartwick Lutheran Synod, of the State of New York, Philadelphia: Lutheran Publishing Co, 1881, pp. 186-189


[S:0 - MS, 18xx] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Letters - Poe to A. S. Cummings (LTR096a/RCL242a)