December 4, 2009 / 8:13 PM / 9 years ago

Washington letter, Poe book set auction records

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A signed four-page letter written by George Washington to his nephew in 1787 sold for $3.2 million, and two works by Edgar Allen Poe set new sales records on Friday in auctions held by Christie’s.

An employee of Christie's holds an original copy of American writer Edgar Allan Poe's Tamerlane and Other Poems, which will be auctioned on Friday for an expected $500,000 to $700,000, in New York, December 1, 2009. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

The letter by the first U.S. president was estimated to sell for $1.5 million to $2.5 million dollars, and smashed the previous 2002 record of $834,500 dollars for a Washington document, Christie’s said.

The letter was written at Mount Vernon, Washington’s home near Washington D.C. for more than 45 years, on November 9, 1787, before he was president. This was the first time the letter had been publicly exhibited, although it has been reproduced.

In it, Washington shares his firm support for the ratification of the American Constitution.

An 1827 first edition copy of Edgar Allen Poe poems sold for $662,500 — a record for a 19th century book of poetry — and two-pages of hand scrawled verses from 1849 netted $830,500 dollars, breaking the 19th century literary manuscript record.

“Tamerlane and Other Poems,” is Poe’s first book as an author, and only a dozen copies exist from that first edition, said Jessie Edelman of Christie’s.

Poe, who readers worldwide know for his lyrical works about the macabre, is believed to have begun his writing career at age 18 by printing only 50 copies of his first book of poems.

He did not attach his name to those books, which indicated their authorship was from “A Bostonian.”

Poe, whose most famous poem is “The Raven,” had moved to Boston, the city where he was born, after leaving his foster parents’ Richmond, Virginia, home.

The 40-page “Tamerlane and Other Poems” was inspired by the work of British poet Lord Byron, and the title poem is about an historical conqueror who laments the loss of his first love.

The literary manuscript, which was the first 8 stanzas of “For Annie,” scrawled out of two crinkled pages, was written for a passing love of Poe’s, Nancy L. Richmond (“Annie”) and far exceeded the $50,000-$70,000 estimate.

The book and manuscript, both weathered with age, came from the library of television and film producer William E. Self. Both works were sold to unidentified American collectors.

An Olivetti typewriter used by the American writer Cormac McCarthy to write nearly his entire body of work sold for $254,500, while a very rare manuscript of author Vladimir Nabokov’s last, unfinished and unpublished novel, “The Original of Laura” failed to sell.

McCarthy, who told Christie’s he would continue to write on a newer, but similar typewriter, is donating the proceeds to the Santa Fe Institute, a nonprofit scientific research organization.

The Washington letter and McCarthy typewriter were sold at the “Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts including Americana” auction, while the works by Poe came from a separate sale of the library of William E. Self.

Reporting by Basil Katz and Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Bob Tourtellotte

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