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Poe Book Bringing Tidy Profit for $15 Find

June 8, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ A rare book of poems by Edgar Allan Poe brought $198,000 at auction Tuesday - less than expected, but not bad for the Massachusetts man who picked it up for $15 in a New Hampshire barn.

The edition of ″Tamerlane and Other Poems″ is only the 12th known surviving copy of Poe’s first book, which he paid to have published by an obscure Boston printer in 1827.

″It’s the rarest book in American literature - it’s the most famous book in American literature,″ said the buyer, Manhattan book dealer James Cummins. ″It’s the book that every rare book seller hopes to get his hands on.″

Cummins, who said he was buying the book for a ″serious book collector″ from New York, added that he was ″very pleased″ with the price.

Sotheby’s auction house, which conducted the sale, had estimated the book’s value at $200,000 to $300,000. The price of $198,000 includes the 10 percent commission that goes to Sotheby’s.

The seller, an amateur book collector who insisted on anonymity, said he found the book in an antiques barn in New Hampshire while browsing through a bin of early 20th century pamphlets on fertilizers and farm machinery.

He said he had never read anything by Poe and knew only that he had found ″something great, a piece of Americana.″

Neither the seller nor Sotheby’s would give the exact location of the antiques barn.

The soft-cover book, which contains the long title poem and nine shorter poems, bears no reference to Poe, listing the author only as ″a Bostonian.″ Although Poe was born in Boston, he lived there only a few months before his parents moved to Richmond, Va. He lived in Boston again for about eight weeks when ″Tamerlane″ was published.

The work had been written about five years earlier, when Poe was 12 or 13 years old. It was a financial disaster - there is no indication that a single copy was ever sold - and has never been highly regarded by critics.

Its value is considered historical more than literary, since it is the first and rarest work by one of America’s greatest authors. Poe went on to write ″The Raven,″ ″Annabel Lee,″ ″The Tell-tale Heart″ and other renowned works.

Of the other 11 known copies of ″Tamerlane,″ all but one are owned by libraries or other institutions. The only other one in private hands is on loan to the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York.

″This is probably the last copy that anyone will get,″ Cummins said.

Also sold Tuesday were four handwritten notebooks by Nobel laureate Saul Bellow that comprised the rough draft of his 1970 novel, ″Mr. Sammler’s Planet.″

The notebooks, believed to be the first archive of a major living author’s published work to be auctioned during his life, brought $66,000.

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