Hidden PVD

The Literary Treasures of the Athenaeum

The Providence Athenaeum's Special Collections contain a pre-Columbus map of the world and Poe's secret signature

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The Providence Athenaeum has called Benefit Street home since 1838, and over nearly 200 years has amassed an impressive collection of rare books and literary artifacts. Its Description de l’Egypte, for example, is a 23-volume collection commissioned by Napoleon that includes breathtaking illustrations of his expedition into Egypt. Another piece in their Special Collections is a pre-Columbus Cosmographia. It’s the first map to include Greenland, but the Americas are still nowhere to be found. Then there’s the library’s Poe memorabilia, which includes a first edition of The Raven and Other Poems, as well as some evidence of the writer’s time spent in the library where he courted and was later dumped by a wealthy widow.

“This is one of the coolest things we have,” says Athenaeum Communications Manager Robin Wetherill, as she shows off the library’s copy of the December 1847 edition of the American Whig Review. Poe’s signature still occupies the margins next to one of his poems, “Ulalume,” which was published in the journal anonymously.

As Robin explains it: “[Poe] came to Providence in the 1840s to court Sarah Helen Whitman. They were at the library looking through poetry together and she said, ‘I love this poem – have you seen it?’ He signed the book and they just put it back on the shelves. Years later she remembered it and it was still there.”