The Beautiful Illustrations That Made Poe's Stories Terrifying In 1919

These rare images, drawn to accompany an early collection of Poe’s darker short stories, hearken back to a golden age of commercial illustration.

When Poe’s 1908 collection of short stories, Tales of Mystery and Imagination, was reprinted in 1919, a copy of the "deluxe" edition would cost you 5 guineas (in today’s money, that’s about 300 USA Fun Tickets).

The book was printed on handmade paper, bound in vellum, and lettered in gold. But its cost was mainly due to new illustrations: 24 full-page drawings by young Irish illustrator Harry Clarke, whose ink illustrations brought Poe’s characters to life with mesmerizing detail. Each copy was signed by Clarke, and according to rare book sellers, the edition topped Christmas lists in 1919.

The popularity of Clarke’s edition feel foreign to us today; DVD box sets have long since eclipsed books as the favored medium through which to consume spooky stories. But as some who owned the book as children have said, there was something meditative about being able to study a single image indefinitely, returning to it with every reading. These drawings invite dissection by the reader, something popular images rarely ask of us today.

Despite being known mainly for his illustration work today, these drawings were simply a side project for Clarke, who trained with his dad as a stained glass artist before being swept up in the Arts & Crafts movement. He died early of tuberculosis, but his work remains in churches and homes throughout Ireland.

[Thanks to 50Watts for permission to use these scans, which came from an expanded 1923 Edition of the book.]

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10 Comments

  • Mericle5601

    I've had this book on my shelf for years.  It is a 1933 edition.  Guess it's passed it's prime.  I have enjoyed reading it and looking at the "lift-able" illustrations.  I've never seen a book where the illustrations are not part of the book but look as an after thought glue in.  I'll have to keep searching about this.  Thanks for the synopsis.

  • J_c_c

    HOLY CRAP, I THINK I HAVE ONE OF THESE!
    It belonged to my grandmother and I remember discovering it as a child and being mesmorized and terrified at the same time - so scary I couldn't look away.
    Thanks for the article, Im off to get it appraised..

  • Mericle5601

    Did you ever get this book appraised?  My edition is 1933 - I find this very interesting.

  • irisclara

    I have a reprint copy of Tales of Mystery and Imagination with these illustrations. The one from Ligella, the woman with all the faces and flowers, is one of my all time favorite book illustrations. The giant whirlpool from Ms. Found In A Bottle also stuck in my memory. Thanks for featuring these.

  • Christopher King

    These are genuinely creepy illustrations. They conjure that eerie feeling of walking into an old remote church. Very cold and spooky. Brilliant stuff.

  • Sinny_D

    Very cool article and gorgeous illustrations. Just also want you to know that the www.50watts.com link here:  "But as some who owned the book as children have said, there was something meditative about being able to study a single image indefinitely, returning to it with every reading."

    is missing an "e" at the end of the address so the page won't load unless you type it.

  • Patience Ellis

    this is a fabulous 'email' that I receive every day!  Congrats to you all