Poems (First Edition) by Emily Dickinson



2015-06-26 10:44:34

Poems First Series, Poems Second Series and Poems Third Series are the collected poetic works of Emily Dickinson (1830-1886). The first editions of these works were published posthumously in 1890, 1891, and 1896 by Roberts Brothers, Boston. Background

Emily Dickinson wrote poetry prolifically from her isolated room in a small American town. She saw less than twelve of her poems published in various local magazines during her lifetime, and even these were heavily edited to conform to expectations of American poetry in the 19th century.

After Emily’s death, her sister discovered a vast cache of poetry written by Emily. These were published, also heavily edited and not really true to Emily’s unique style, as Poems (1890), Poems Second Series (1891) and Poems Third Series (1896). It was not until the 1950s that an unedited, unadulterated edition of her poetry was published.

Subject matter

The poems were sentimental, often humorous, some unashamedly emotional and passionate. Her style was unique for the time of writing, including unconventional punctuation and lineation, such as unusual use of dashes, mid-line capitalisation, caesura and enjambment. She usually chose to write in a ballad stanza form, in irregular trimeter or tetrameter. She uses imperfect rhyme and slant rhyme often.


Emily Dickinson was a fascinating recluse, a prolific private writer, and an American poetic legend.

See main article: Emily Dickinson rare books and memorabilia

Notable auction sales and collecting tips

It is difficult to define what construes a first edition of Emily Dickinson. Due to the fact that her poetry was adulterated by heavy editing in every publication until long after her death, the only true first editions can be considered the handwritten autograph versions of her poems.

The three volumes of Poems first, second and third series are the first collected publications of her poetry, but not necessarily true to her as a writer. The first unadulterated edition was in the 1950s, decades after her death, and therefore now widely available and not particularly collectible.

The three first edition volumes are often sold together. For example, Christie’s New York sold all three for $6,050 in November 1992, and Heritage Auctions for $7,765 in October 2009.

Single volumes have fetched a few thousand dollars at various times, such as Christie’s New York selling the first series for $4,370 in September 1995 and $4,800 in June 2007, and Heritage Auctions selling the second series for $1,195 in April 2007.

A single autograph manuscript of a poem by Dickinson sold at Christie’s for $11,500 in December 1995, demonstrating the difference between the heavily edited first editions of her collected poems, and what is truly a first edition, a handwritten copy of a single poem.

It is recommended never to re-bind first editions or attempt to restore them, as they are infinitely more valuable in their original bindings. In the case of these poems, the bindings were grey and white cloth with gilt and silver decoration, including an illustrated cover.

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