Today marks the 200th birthday of writer Edgar Allan Poe, most famous for his tales of the horror and suspense such as The Raven, The Black Cat, and The Tell-Tale Heart. In celebration, the United States Postal Service released this week a 42-cent First-Class commemorative postage stamp of the 19th century master of macabre, which was dedicated at the Library of Virginia in Richmond.
The stamp is on sale right now at the Postal Store Web site at www.usps.com/shop or by calling 800-STAMP-24. (I know I’m definitely getting some of these stamps!)
The American writer and poet has gone on to influence countless writers and artists of all genres since his death in 1849 at the age of 40. Poe is said to have inspired the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of fiction’s great detective Sherlock Holmes), Dostoyevsky, Jules Vernes, and English Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson, as well as composer Claude Debussy and Impressionists artists of the time, amongst many creators of today’s pop culture.
My first introduction to Edgar Allan Poe was at age 5 when I hear his name mentioned in The Beatles’ “I Am The Walrus.” Then, when I was 10, a friend’s mom told me that she thought my father looked like Edgar Allan Poe, so I went to the library and looked for pictures of the writer, and wouldn’t you know it, my Dad did look like him! Right there I made a connection with the author, and proceeded to find more of his stories to read. The Raven was readily available, so I went with that one first. Admittedly, I didn’t quite understand it all, but something about the story really drew me in and made me want to read more stories like it. (I then read The Black Cat, which instead of frightening me, make me really want a black cat. Somehow, my parents obliged and home came my new black cat Raven.)
Soon after, I was lucky enough to get an old hardcover copy of The Complete Tales & Poems of Edgar Allan Poe from a family friend. I carried this book — along with a pocket dictionary — around with me everywhere. I learned a lot of new words from these stories — “manifold,” “fettered,” and “pestilence,” to name a few. As a teenager, I was thrilled when I heard songs based on Poe stories from bands I liked, like Iron Maiden’s “Murders In The Rue Morgue” and Hades’ “Masque of the Red Death.” My strong love and familiarity of Poe eventually came in handy in high school and college when I took several Gothic Horror and Fiction classes, for which, of course, Poe was required reading.
I wish that books like Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Madness, a collection of a few Poe stories illustrated by Gris Grimly, had been around when I was a kid, as it would have made these stories more understandable to me at an early age (but hey, I have the book now!).
If you’re not familiar with Edgar Allan Poe’s works, you can read some of his stories for free online at World Wide School.
Also, check out what author Neil Gaiman wrote about Poe a while back.
Here’s some more information about the stamp:
The stamp portrait of Edgar Allan Poe is by award-winning artist Deas, whose research over the years has made him well acquainted with Poe’s appearance. In 1989, Deas published “The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe,” a comprehensive collection of images featuring authentic likenesses as well as derivative portraits.
The portrait for the stamp was done in oils on a wooden panel. The selvage art is by Edmund Dulac (1882-1953), a French-born British illustrator whose works have appeared in such classics as “The Arabian Nights” (1907), “The Tempest” (1908), and “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” (1909). The selvage illustration is from “The Bells and Other Poems” (1912). The quotation on the stamp sheet is from Poe’s most famous poem, “The Raven,” first published in 1845.