Emily Dickinson rare books and memorabilia



2015-06-26 10:56:27

Emily Dickinson rare books and memorabilia are collectible items relating to American poet Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (1830-1886).


Brief History/biography

Famous recluse, introvert, and prolific private poet Emily Dickinson saw fewer than a dozen of her poems published in her lifetime, and these were heavily edited from her unique and unusual style to conform to the status quo of 19th century poetry. After her death, her sister discovered a vast hoard of nearly 1,800 of Emily’s poems. Her friends Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd published a collection of her poetry as Poems in 1890, Poems second series in 1891, and Poems third series in 1896. Despite their acclaim and success, all of these were heavily edited and altered from Dickinson’s manuscripts. It was only in the 1950s that a publication of unadulterated material was collected and given to the public. Her true style, experimental and innovative for the time, consisted of short lines without capitals, some slant rhyme, unconventional punctuation and capitalisation. Although a great part of Dickinson’s appeal is due to the mystery surrounding her seclusion and eccentricity, Dickinson is now considered one of the greatest American poets, a pre-modernist innovator.

Types of rare books and memorabilia



  • Poems First Series (1890), Poems Second Series (1891), and Poems Third Series (1896), first editions, sold for $6,050 in November 1992.
  • Poems (1890), first edition. Sold for $4,370 in September 1995 and $4,800 in June 2007.

Heritage Auctions

  • Poems First Series (1890), Poems Second Series (1891), and Poems Third Series (1896), first editions, sold for $7,765.50 in October 2009.
  • Poems Second Series (1891) first edition, sold for $1,195 in April 2007.

Documents, Autographs and Photographs


  • Autograph note signed by Dickinson, sold for $8,784 in December 2010.


  • Autograph letter signed by Dickinson, 1884, sold for $18,400 in December 1995.
  • Autograph letter signed by Dickinson, sold for $17,250 in December 1999.
  • Autograph letter signed by Dickinson, 1854, sold for $16,100 in November 1996.
  • Autograph manuscript of a four-stanza poem, no date but circa 1858, sold for $11,500 in December 1995.


  • Autograph letter signed by Dickinson. Sold for $12,500 in June 2011.
  • Autograph letter signed by Dickinson. Sold for $18,750 in June 2011.

Guide for collectors

Emily Dickinson is an unusual one for collectors, being so scarce. The few works published during her lifetime are extraordinarily rare, being published in local newspapers like the Springfield Republican and the Brooklyn Daily Union. The first collections of her works are nominally valuable, but so heavily edited and altered that they cannot in many cases be considered true versions of her poetry, and being published years after her death, are never enhanced by her signature. Therefore the only bona fide Dickinson to collect are the handwritten manuscript copies of her poetry, or the 1950s publication of unadulterated material, which is not particularly collectible in itself.

Later editions of Dickinson’s poetry can be rendered more valuable with the addition of an eminent illustrator or association of good provenance.

Famously, Dickinson conducted the majority of her friendships through written correspondence. Therefore her letters are much collected items, and can be extremely valuable. Many of her letters, such as those to literary critic and radical abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson (who published her works after her death), were overly dramatic and deliberately mysterious, full of imagery, and therefore fascinating pieces of literature to read in their own right.

The mystery surrounding Dickinson; her increasing isolation and refusal to leave the house from the 1870s onwards, adds to the excitement for collectors, the scarcity of her works reflecting the hidden nature of Dickinson herself during her life. Of course she also commands respect as a great American poet and innovative pre-modernist writer, so her works are also extremely collectible from a literary perspective.

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