Edgar Allan Poe and Sarah Helen Whitman: A Legacy Enduring at The Poe Museum

The Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia is home to the rarest, most extensive collection of Poe artifacts in the world! Their latest acquisition will excite Poe fans (no doubt) but especially those who are interested in Poe’s courtship with Providence poetess, Sarah Helen Whitman. Here’s what The Poe Museum had to say about an ambrotype of Poe they recently acquired:

You may not recognize its name, most of you are familiar with the popular ‘Ultima Thule’ daguerreotype taken of Poe in Providence in 1848. It appears on T-shirts, internet memes, and even socks. The Poe Museum is fortunate enough to own one of the few original copies made before the plate disappeared around 1860.

Fewer of you may know the daguerreotype taken four days later and which Poe himself deemed the best picture ever taken of him. He presented it to his fiancée Sarah Helen Whitman. The Poe Museum has recently acquired an early ambrotype copy dating to the 1860s. The museum’s copy was made while Whitman still owned the original but we do not know who she made it for. This is just one of the puzzles to solve as we study this fascinating image.

Sarah Helen Whitman worked tenaciously to protect and preserve Poe’s legacy, even after their turbulent courtship ended abruptly here in Providence. This ambrotype is a solidifying example of that effort, as Helen was having her materials copied and published in numerous articles, books, and biographies on Poe in the subsequent years after his death. She even gifted some of her priceless pieces to early Poe biographers and fans around the world. The original daguerreotype in which this ambrotype was copied from is in the collection of Brown University at the John Hay Library in Providence. You can read more about that here.

This ambrotype will be on display for the very first time at The Poe Museum’s “UnHappy Hour” this month.

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