Books & Manuscripts

Poe's 'The Raven' is the Perfect Christmas Ghost Story

By Halina Loft
A rare copy of one of the greatest American stories of its age, Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven", will feature in Sotheby's upcoming auction: Fine Books and Manuscripts, Including the Olympic Manifesto . It's fitting to enjoy Poe's most famous story during Christmas, a holiday where ghost stories have long held a place.

"O nce upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore –
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, 'tapping at my chamber door –
Only this and nothing more.'

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor."

'T is the season to be jolly; but beneath all the mistletoe and sugarplum fairies, there’s darkness, as well. The nights have grown long, cold winter winds send chills down our spines and flickering candlelight throws ominous shadows – making this the perfect season to tell ghost stories.

Edgar Allan Poe. Photograph taken by W.S. Hartshorn, Providence, RI, 9 November 1848.

The Christmas ghost story is an ancient tradition, though it’s been somewhat forgotten in the modern era (partly because Halloween now wins the award for spookiest holiday). We can date the tradition back to the holiday’s pagan roots, when the people of Northern Europe believed Yuletide, the precursor to Christmas, heralded an increase in supernatural activity. In Victorian England, when the public's obsession with death and the occult reached a fever pitch, Christmas ghost stories became popular once more – bolstered in no small part by the work of such literary masters as J. H. Riddell, Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe.

The most famous of Poe's many macabre stories is undoubtedly "The Raven". First published in 1845, "The Raven" has all the trappings of a perfect Christmas ghost story: the tale opens on a cold evening in December, as the fire is dying and strange noises startle the narrator awake.

The story captivated audiences immediately upon publication, becoming an immense success and bringing Poe notoriety (though, notably, the author failed to gain financial success in his lifetime). In fact, the public was so captivated by the story that Poe's publisher, Wiley and Putnam, subsequently issued a collection of the author's works, which Poe personally selected. Just 750 copies of this collection were published in 1845 in New York; today, it's exceedingly difficult to obtain one of these rare books in its original printed paper wrappers, given the fragility of the issue and the limited runs of publication.

Today, it's exceedingly difficult to obtain one of these rare books in its original printed paper wrappers.

As such, it's a momentous occasion that Sotheby's will present a near-fine copy of this book in its upcoming Fine Books and Manuscripts Auction.

POE, EDGAR ALLAN | The Raven. New York: Wiley and Putnam, 1845. Estimate $120,000 – 180,000.

Register to Bid

Considered one of the greatest American books of its age, this first edition of the "The Raven" is among the best obtainable – the book appears in its original printed paper wrappers, with a quarter blue morocco slipcase. This copy is certainly equal to copies from the Self and Martin collections, and is perhaps bested only by the truly fine Tane copy in private hands. The provenance of this book is similarly impressive: previous owners include the storied rare book and manuscript collectors Marjorie Wiggin Prescott and Richard Manney.

Celebrate Christmas with one of the greatest ghost stories ever written – and feel the spirit of Poe's raven, looming evermore. Bidding on this and other works will take place on 18 December at 10:00 AM EDT in New York. Register to bid now, and place your bid before the auction begins.

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