Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘For Annie’ Heads to Auction

Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘For Annie’ Heads to Auction

Poe wrote the poem in his cottage in The Bronx to impress a young admirer.
Poe wrote the poem in his cottage in The Bronx to impress a young admirer.

L ike so many others, Edgar Allan Poe moved to New York City for the promise of work. “He was a great New Yorker,” says Richard Austin, Global Head of Books and Manuscripts at Sotheby’s. “The number of addresses he lived at during this time is like how so many of us move around to different neighborhoods.”

It’s easy to imagine the author walking through the modern streets of Greenwich Village, which was already a bustling urban area during Poe’s time in the 1840s. Even then, the city was inspiring to artists. It there that he wrote some of his most famous works, like “The Raven” and “The Cask of Amontillado.” As he wrote of New York in a letter in 1844, “The city is brimfull [sic] of all kinds of legitimate liveliness – the life of money-making, and the life of pleasure.” But Poe also predicted the city’s growth and spread as he looked at the cliffs and trees near what is now Roosevelt Island, writing, “In twenty years, or thirty at farthest, we shall see here nothing more romantic than shipping, warehouses, and wharves.” He was right about the development but wrong, perhaps, about the lack of romance in it.

“The city is brimfull of all kinds of legitimate liveliness – the life of money-making, and the life of pleasure.”
- Edgar Allan Poe

When Poe moved to a small cottage in what is now The Bronx, he did so in the hopes of helping cure his wife Virginia of tuberculosis. Today the cottage has been preserved as a museum with a small front yard but the city has grown all around it with bodegas and high-rise buildings. In Poe’s time, he could look out from his porch and see farmland all around him. “It’s a window into New York’s past,” Austin says, and Poe’s as well.

Poe’s final and most difficult years were spent in this Bronx cottage. He, Virginia and his mother-in-law moved to the cottage in 1846. During this time, Poe was a struggling writer living in relative poverty. Peter Ackroyd wrote in his biography Poe: A Life Cut Short that Poe’s mother-in-law foraged greens along the country roads and even dug up turnips meant for cattle to keep everyone fed. Despite moving to this place outside the city, Poe’s wife died a year later.

  • A black-and-white photograph of Edgar Allan Poe's cottage in the Bronx
In 1846, Edgar Allan Poe and his family moved into this cabin in The Bronx, where he penned his late works, including “The Bell” and “For Annie” (pictured left). Photos by Matthew Borowick; Historical photo via New York Public Library.

This tumultuous time in Poe’s biography was an important period artistically. “His work was so much impacted by his life circumstances,” says Austin. “He’d be inspired by a woman he met or in the depths of despair, and he would write.” Poe wrote “The Bells,” “Annabel Lee,” “Ulalume” and the poem “For Annie” while living in the cottage. The titular bells of his poem are thought by some to be inspired by the tolling of the Fordham University church’s bells which were located near his home. “Annabel Lee,” about a couple so in love that the woman is killed out of spite, is a poem of grief, written after Virginia’s death. Austin noted that even among Poe’s notably gloomy oeuvre there is a particular focus on death in his work he produced in these last years.

Some of his final works were written both for publication and as a literary bouquet of roses. He sent them to women he courted after his wife’s death, most obviously “For Annie,” which was written for Nancy “Annie” L. Richmond. He sent her a copy of the poem after he’d sold it for publication, telling her he thought it was among his best works but might be mistaken, “so I wish to know what my Annie truly thinks of them.” On 26 June 2024, an autograph manuscript of the poem from the Library of Dr. Rodney P. Swantko is being auctioned by Sotheby’s for the first time since 2009.

An autograph manuscript of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem ‘For Annie’ is headed to auction on 26 June 2024 (Estimate: $400,000-600,000).
An autograph manuscript of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem For Annie is headed to auction on 26 June 2024 (Estimate: $400,000-600,000).

Writing “For Annie” may have been a somewhat calculated move, Austin says. “Like many New Yorkers, he’s thinking of his next step.” Poe’s financial situation was particularly dire in his last years and he was likely aware that he needed another patron or relationship to support him. Poe is not thought of as a particularly autobiographical writer, but it’s clear that his life – and the places he lived – had a great influence on his work.

Perhaps it’s for this reason that so many cities have sought to claim him as their own. There are Edgar Allan Poe museums in Richmond, Baltimore and Philadelphia, as well as the one in New York City. But when he died under mysterious circumstances on a trip to Baltimore in 1849, home was still the cottage in The Bronx.

The city has changed as Poe predicted it would, but modern Poe aficionados could learn a lot about the writer by visiting the places where he lived and imagining themselves into New York City as it existed in the 1840s. The city has grown, the farmlands have been pushed even farther out, but it’s still the urban heart of the United States where so many talented artists have come, dreaming of creating work that is appreciated long after they are gone.

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