Walt Whitman rare books and memorabilia



2015-06-26 10:34:51

Walt Whitman rare books and memorabilia are collectible items relating to American poet and essayist Walt Whitman (1819-1892).

Brief History/biography

Walt Whitman is one of the most influential American poets. He is often referred to as the father of free verse. His poetry was very controversial for the time it was written, even banned by booksellers for overt sexuality. Whitman was also quite political and called for the abolition of slavery, as well as strongly supporting the north in the American Civil War. He was influenced by deism and disliked drinking alcohol. His major collection of poetry was Leaves of Grass (1855), and he funded its first publication himself. He continued to add, edit, and revise this collection up until his death in 1892.

Whitman’s work was pioneering in its experimentation with poetic form. He used symbolism and imagery that was very unusual for the time. His extensive use of free verse was very notable and influential. His idea of writing can be summed up by a comment in his preface to the 1855 first edition of Leaves and Grass: ‘the proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it’. This image of a mutual relationship between poet and society is a common theme in his work.

He is described as America’s first poet of democracy, and is seen by some as vital to understanding America. He considered himself a messiah like figure for American poetry and democracy, and his legacy indicates that many adhere to this image.

Types of rare books and memorabilia



  • The Complete Writings (1902) uniformly bound in morocco, a fine set of 10 volumes. Sold for $4,780 in December 2006.
  • Leaves of Grass (1876) signed by Whitman. Sold for $3,900 in October 2007.


  • Leaves of Grass first edition (1855), sold for $82,250 in December 2000 and $218,500 in December 2009.


  • Leaves of Grass first edition (1855) sold for $187,200 in April 2004 and $230,500 in October 2011.

Documents, Autographs etc


  • Whitman’s own edition of Leaves of Grass with intercalations, plus Whitman’s edition of Two Rivulets, plus a handwritten postcard signed by Whitman. Sold for $17,925 in February 2006.
  • Handwritten manuscript from 1876 containing discussion of Whitman’s personal goals. Sold for $17,500 in October 2011.
  • Handwritten manuscript of My 71st Year. Sold for $11,750 in March 2005.
  • Signed photograph of Whitman, 1871, sold for £3,000 in March 2011.


  • Handwritten manuscript of Whitman’s speech on The Death of Abraham Lincoln, 1886, sold for $84,000 in May 2007.


  • Handwritten manuscript of the poem A Carol of Harvest, for 1867. Sold for $142,400 in April 2004.

Guide for collectors

Whitman is such an iconic figure that his letters and autographs are very valuable. His most sought after work is early editions of Leaves of Grass, particularly the first edition of 1855 that he published himself. These are rare and exciting to collectors due to the controversy surrounding them. These editions are worth infinitely more in their original bindings, so it is not recommended to restore them.

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