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Poe Book Once Purchased For $15 Is Sold For $198,000

June 8, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ A rare book by Edgar Allan Poe that a Massachusetts man picked up for $15 in a New Hampshire barn was auctioned for $198,000, putting the seller in a ″dream world,″ an auction house official said.

The first-edition copy of ″Tamerlane and Other Poems,″ only the 12th known copy of Poe’s first book published in 1827, was sold at Sotheby’s auction house Tuesday to a rare book dealer for less than expected.

Even so, the Massachusetts seller was ’extremely happy,″ Sotheby’s Vice President David Redden said. ″He’s still in, I think, a sort of dream world over the whole business.″

The seller, who demanded anonymity said he found the book in an antique barn in southern New Hampshire. The barn was not identified.

Poe, who paid to have the book published by an obscure Boston publisher, went on to write such classic poems and stories of horror and romance as ″Annabel Lee,″ ″The Raven,″ and ″The Tell-tale Heart.″

″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 said he was buying the book for a ″serious book collector″ from New York and was ″very pleased″ with the price, which Sotheby’s described as a record for a work of American literature.

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

The soft-cover book, which contains the long title poem and nine shorter ones, 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. There is no indication that a single copy of the book was ever sold, and it never has been highly regarded by critics.

Its value is considered historical more than literary, since it is the first and rarest work by Poe.

Of the 11 other 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.

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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