The Museum Collection
Poe Letter to Samuel Kettell
Description:This previously unpublished letter was discovered in 2005 in a private collection in Alabama. The owner was a pastor who had been given the letter years earlier as a gift from a member of her church, who had purchased it, along with some pages from Andrew Jackson?s journal, at a yard sale. The pastor had placed the valuable sheet in a folder and lost it during a move. She told Poe Museum curators she had forgotten about the letter until she was packing for another move twenty years later. She carelessly picked up the folder and saw the letter fall onto the floor.
She soon contacted the Poe Museum, which put her in touch with an appraiser who could authenticate the letter. The appraiser's primary concerns about the piece's authenticity were that the letter lacked a postmark and that the size of the paper was smaller than that used for most other Poe letters. The note was not mailed, but, according to the text of the letter, was left at the recipient's office--meaning there was no postmark on the back of the letter. Because many forgers cannot produce these postmarks, the lack of one is usually a warning sign of a forgery. The small size of the paper was explained by the fact that the document was a hastily written note, and the paper seems to be a sheet torn from the end pages of a book. The content of the letter, however, was consistent with the facts known about Poe's life at the time, and the handwriting did not resemble that of any of the major forgers who had profited by selling counterfeit Poe letters.
After the appraiser was convinced of the piece's authenticity, the Poe Museum offered to purchase it from the owner. Without adequate funds to make such a large acquisition, the Museum began a fundraising drive and was able to pay for the letter several months later with the help of several generous benefactors.
According to the text of the letter, Poe has sent his mother-in-law fifteen miles into New York City (from their home in Fordham) to retrieve the manuscript for an article he has changed his mind about publishing. Poe asks the recipient Samuel Kettell, editor of the Democratic Review, to accept another manuscript in its place. Maria Clemm, the bearer of the note, will pick up the old manuscript and leave the replacement with Kettell.
Why Poe decided not to sell the article is unknown, but he does identify its subject as Richard Adams Locke, an author Poe had suggested might be guilty of plagiarizing one of Poe's stories. Poe would soon include a description of Locke in his article The Literati of New York City, so it is possible Poe wanted to retrieve the manuscript to incorporate it into that piece.