26 November 2007

Poe. The Murders in the Rue Morgue. 1841/ 1843/ 1932

Our first meeting was at an obscure library in the Rue Montmartre, where the accident of our both being in search of the same very rare and very remarkable volume, brought us into closer communion... I felt my soul enkindled within me by the wild fervor, and the vivid freshness of his imagination. ..It was at length arranged that we should live together during my stay in the city; and as my worldly circumstances were somewhat less embarrassed than his own, I was permitted to be at the expense of renting, and furnishing in a style which suited the rather fantastic gloom of our common temper, a time-eaten and grotesque mansion, long deserted through superstitions into which we did not inquire, and tottering to its fall in a retired and desolate portion of the Faubourg St. Germain... Our seclusion was perfect. We admitted no visitors. Indeed the locality of our retirement had been carefully kept a secret from my own former associates; and it had been many years since Dupin had ceased to know or be known in Paris. We existed within ourselves alone.

'There is assuredly much to be said for Joseph Wood Krutch's brilliant over-simplification: "Poe invented the detective story that he might not go mad."
Men still read them for the same reason to-day.' Howard Haycraft. 'Murder for Pleasure.'

Edgar Allan Poe. THE PROSE ROMANCES OF EDGAR ALLAN POE. No. 1. (Murders in the Rue Morgue, and the Man That Was Used Up.) William H. Graham, Philadelphia, 1843.

Current Selling Prices
$200,000 +/£100,000+

Edgar Allan Poe. THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE AND OTHER TALES OF HORROR... Illustrated with Scenes from the Universal Photoplay. Grosset and Dunlap, New York. (1932)

Current Selling Prices
$800-$1600 /£400-£800

Edgar Allan Poe wrote only three detective stories: 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue,' 'The Mystery of Marie Roget,' and 'The Purloined Letter.' The appearance of 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue,' in 1841 is often cited as the first detective story. The word 'detective' was not even in use then and the only thing available were the racy reminiscences of policeman (especially the 1827 'Mémoires de Vidocq, Chef de Police de Sûreté' which Poe is known to have devoured). 'The Divine Edgar' as Nabokov calls him, had immediately established the archetypal detective and Doyle and Christie are very much in his debt. The ingenious deductive (and reductive) mental processes, the admiring narrator as sidekick and foil , the strange and brilliant detective, the bumbling constabulary, locked rooms etc. were all there. He also initiates the storytelling device where the detective announces his solution and then explains the reasoning leading up to it. You can still see this almost any night on T.V.

Howard Haycraft writes in 'Classic Crime Fiction' that Poe 'had no precedent for his "tale of ratiocination." The closest example is Voltaire's Zadig (1748), with a main character who performs similar feats of analysis.' He also cites Dickens's 'Bleak House' (1853) which has detective elements. Wilkie Collins' 'The Woman in White' (serialized in 1859-1860) is often cited as the first (and finest) mystery novel-- but that's another story.

VALUE? Loadsamoney. Quite worn and even defective copies have achieved the price of a footballer's Bentley (£100K +). There are only 15 copies known of the 1843 printed but it can surface - it looks like a pamphlet or magazine and is only 48 pages. It is preceded by the 1841 appearnce of the single story "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," in Graham's Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine (the Casket and Gentleman's United). Volume XVII. Philadelphia: George R. Graham, January-June, 1841. Note that it has an engraved frontispiece and 5 other plates by Sartain after various artists, 2 black-and-white costume plates on one leaf and 5 handcolored costume plates. It is conceivable that some benighted breaker ignorant of the glories of the divine Edgar could have the item and slice out the costume plates and toss the text in the trash. It can go for as much as $10,000 and shows up with some regularity as does his similarly valuable poem 'The Raven' first published in 'The American Review: A Whig Journal of Politics, Literature , Art and Science, February, 1845'. Always worth looking through these dry old periodicals for contributions.

Only three of the known copies are perfect. There have not been many copies of 'Prose Romances' going through auction, the last made $230,000 + commission at Christie's New York in December 2000 described thus '...spine lacking, rear wrap detached, soiled & spotted; repaired tear to blank lower margin of front wrap - Some foxing - "The recently discovered fifteenth known copy".' Another copy made $60,000 in 1990 described as ' foxed & stained; 1st page abraded, costing 5 letters in last line - "One of only fourteen copies known...." Brown-Martin copy...' Rather like the 1887 'Study in Scarlet' punters are able to put up with a good deal of condition problems as waiting for a factory fresh example is a fool's game.

The history of the book in dealer's hands reveals an enigmatic copy in the hands of the Americana dealer Edward Eberstadt who flourished 1930 to 1950s. His puff for a copy he possessed is difficult to top even by the barkers of Ebay. Admittedly this a book where some superlatives are justified--he wrote in his 1954 catalogue:

FIRST EDITION OF THE GREATEST RARITY IN AMERICAN LITERATURE. The Murders is by far the rarest book of the world’s most collectible author. It is more than that: it is an important work as well. It introduced to the many thousands of later imitators an entirely new (and ever-increasingly popular) kind of tale---the detective story. The work has been called “the greatest short story in the literature not only of America but of the world.” Even the famous Tamerlane must give precedence to the Murders, both in point of rarity and, of course, literary significance. In the entire history of English and American auctions the work has appeared only twice, the last time in 1909 when J. P. Morgan acquired his copy for the highest price that had ever been paid for an American book.
The curious thing is that Eberstadt was selling the book for $20K in 1946 and eight years later at $5K. It is demonstrably the same book (both had the outer wraps in facsimile) and he may have bought it back off a collector and was looking for a quick sale in a very flat market. Prices can go down as well as up.

The Grosset photoplay edition can make as much as $2000 in great shape and like many of these books often shows up in pitiful condition. The title can turn up as ending in "Horror', 'Mystery' or 'Terror' -nobody seems to care; the value is determined by the state of the wonderful jacket. The stills are from the 1932 Universal film directed by Robert Florey and starring Bela Lugosi (still above) as the villainous Dr. Mirakle.Not a masterpiece, apparently. Lastly it should be noted that the 1843 'Prose Romances' was published at 12 and a half cents and Poe was hoping to make some money to help him out of debt - so it it is possible that a 1000 or more were printed. That 16th copy is waiting somewhere to be unearthed. Poe was much admired in France by decadents and symbolists (he was translated by Baudelaire) and copies could conceivably show up there at, say, a marché aux pouces.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

right on! and really EAP was an innovator on many fronts, in Benjamin's slim volume 'Arcades Project' he quotes Paul Valery "he provided the first examples of the scientific tale, the modern cosmogonic poem, the detective novel, the literature of morbid psychological states." AL