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.