The Museum Collection

First Printing of "The Pit and the Pendulum" in The Gift

ID #:
Creator: Edgar Allan Poe
Date: 1842
Format: book
Dimensions: 7.25" x 4.75"
Source: Gift of John W. Robertson
Collection: Poe Foundation, Inc.
Publisher: Carey & Hart
Place of Publication: Philadelphia
Publish Date: 1842


The Gift was an annual anthology or gift book. Such gift books had their origins in Germany, and the first such gift book was published in the United States appeared in 1826. These anthologies flourished in the 1830s and 1840s, and The Gift (along with The Token) was the nation's best. Poe found a willing publisher for his tales in The Gift beginning in 1836 with "Ms. Found in a Bottle" and continuing through 1845 with "The Purloined Letter."

Poe was paid $38 for "The Pit and the Pendulum" which first appeared on pages 133-151 of the 1843 edition. Five thousand copies were printed of this popular anthology, and second issue might have been printed as well. Although Poe would reprint the tale in The Broadway Journal in 1845, it would not be included in his 1845 collection Tales or any other book during his lifetime. In 1852, it was translated into French by the poet Charles Baudelaire. Soon becoming one of Poe's most popular stories, it appeared in German in 1853, Danish in 1855, Swedish in 1881, and Japanese in 1886.

Poe sets "The Pit and the Pendulum" in a torture chamber during the Spanish Inquisition. He may have been inspired by a paragraph in Thomas Dick?s Philosophy of Religion (1825): "On entry of the French into Toldeo during the late Peninsular War, General Lasalle visited the Palace of the Inquisition. The great number of instruments of torture, especially the instruments to stretch the limbs, and the drop baths, which cause a lingering death, excited horror, even in the minds of soldiers hardened in the field of battle."