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Tales of Mystery and Imagination [unpublished]

Tales of Mystery and Imagination [unpublished] by POE, Edgar Allan [John Austen] (1930)

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Author: POE, Edgar Allan [John Austen]
Title: Tales of Mystery and Imagination [unpublished and unrecorded edition]
Year: 1930
Publisher: The Richards Press [Never Released]
Place: London
Dust Jacket: No
Signed: No
Price: £2950
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Added under Rare books

Seemingly unique, unrecorded and unpublished 1930s British limited edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination.

Large quarto (22x29cm) publisher’s mock-up of a projected edition by The Richards Press of London, printed by the Alcuin Press but never published. Bound in green unlettered cloth, nicked in a couple of places, faded but serviceable. Book label on the first flyleaf of Dr George Osborne Mitchell with a long pencilled explanatory note opposite written by Mitchell who was given the book by its second proposed illustrator, the artist John Austen:

‘This book was never published. The Richards Press handed this copy to John Austen [book illustrator] who agreed to illustrate the work with linocuts to fit the spaces, the type having been set up to suit the projected illustrations by Carlo Farneti, (the project of his illustrating the book not, for some reason, materializing.) Then came the war of 1939, so that John Austen never illustrated it either. This may be the only copy, and it was given me by John Austen at Rose Cottage [nr Hythe, Kent] on May 1st 1946. G. Mitchell.’

As it stands the 302 printed pages, 25 full page aquatints and a further 47 aquatints pasted into the text, are preceded by four manuscript leaves, probably in the hand of the Alcuin Press’s founder Herbert Finberg. A1 is a manuscript half title with a manuscript limitation statement to the verso:

‘five hundred copies of this book have been printed by The Alcuin Press Chipping Camden, Gloucestershire under the direction of [gap] The aquatints have been printed by The Art Reproduction Company Limited, London. This copy is number...’ A2 recto blank; A2v with note for frontispiece. A3r title manuscript title page: ‘TALES OF MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION By EDGAR ALLAN POE with aquatints by CARLO FARNETI [device] LONDON THE RICHARDS PRESS LTD PUBLISHERS’. A4r Manuscript ‘Contents’ listing stories beginning with ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue...’

The printed text which is also on ‘Verona’ watermarked paper is laid out to fit round Farneti’s superb aquatint illustrations, bound in or literally cut and pasted from the French edition of 1928 - though apparently intended to be reprinted for this edition by The Art Reproduction Company in London.

From this description the chronology of this unpublished edition seems relatively straightforward. Acting on behalf of The Richards Press of London Herbert Finberg set up and printed part of an edition of Poe’s Tales at the Alcuin Press between 1928 and 1935 when the press moved from Chipping Camden - it closed the following year. For some reason, perhaps copyright, it became impossible to reuse Farneti’s aquatints at which point this Alcuin-printed mock-up was given to John Austen with the commission from The Richards Press to produce a new suite of illustrations. The complex typographic layout around Farneti’s work would have been highly prescriptive for Austen who put off the work before the project was overtaken by the closure of the Alcuin Press and the Second World War. After the war the mock-up was given to Dr Mitchell and Austen himself died shortly afterwards in 1948.

We can find no bibliographical reference to either the planning or publication of this edition which is not located in OCLC or any institutional library, thereby making it a significant addition to Poe bibliography. Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination was a selection made from his stories that formed the first complete collection of his works which restricted itself to his suspensful and related tales. This compilation and title has been particularly successful in Britain in the twentieth century where Poe’s poetry and essays have never been so popular as they are in Europe and North America.
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