Text: Michael J. Deas, “The Graham's Magazine Fashion Plate,” The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe (1989), pp. 118-119 (This material is protected by copyright)


­[page 118:]

The Graham's Magazine Fashion Plate

One of the most peculiar traditions associated with Poe portraiture is the belief that Poe once modeled for an engraved fashion plate illustration in Graham's Magazine (fig. 55). The figure standing at the extreme right of the illustration supposedly depicts Poe; the three other figures are said to represent, from left to right, Virginia Poe, Poe's friend Henry B. Hirst, and Maria Clemm.

Graham's Magazine fashion plate [thumbnail]

(fig. 55)
Graham's Magazine fashion plate
[Illustration on page 119]

The attribution seems to have originated with J. H. Whitty, but its chief proponent was certainly Thomas O. Mabbott, who on several occasions publicly referred to the engraving as a likeness of Poe. Mabbott was somewhat inconsistent in his statements about the picture, at different times giving contradictory dates for the issue of Graham's he believed to contain the image in question. In 1941 he remarked, “J. H. Whitty thought Poe and Virginia served as models for a fashion plate in Graham's Magazine for July 1841.”(110) In a letter written eight years later (quoted below), he gave the date of the issue as “July — and perhaps Nov, 1841.” And in his 1969 edition of Poe's Collected Works, Mabbott wrote, “In the June [1841] number of Graham's there was a fashion plate which some have supposed to represent Mrs. Clemm, Edgar and Virginia Poe, and Henry B. Hirst.”(111) The illustration for the issue of July 1841, which was reprinted at Mabbott's suggestion in Laura Benét's Young Edgar Allan Poe (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1941), is reproduced here.

Why Whitty and Mabbott believed the fashion plate to be a likeness of Poe is not entirely certain, although at one point Mabbott admitted the attribution was based on “vague tradition” and “probability of appearance.” In 1949 he explained in a letter to Mrs. Ralph Catterall, curator of the Valentine Museum:

Do you know the fashion plate picture of Poe, in Graham's, July — and perhaps Nov., 1841. Whitty thought the Poe family represented. I think this highly probable. Miss Benet used one of them in the children's book on Poe she wrote at my suggestion. You see, [Lambert A.] Wilmer says Poe once studied lithography. He, under the circumstances, probably was on close terms with the people who engraved the pictures. The girl in both pictures is the Virginia Clemm type. I am not sure we should call these things portraits. But even a vague tradition plus probability of appearance makes me think those things worthy. ... The Nov. 1841 fashion plate I only noticed tonight when I verified my references. The tradition is that the earlier one shows Poe, Virginia, Mrs. Clemm and H. B. Hirst. I confess, I think it does.(112)

That the girl in both pictures was “the Virginia Clemm type” is hardly firm ground on which to base identification of the persons represented in figure 55. Objectively, there is no evidence whatever to link any fashion plate illustration to Edgar Allan Poe. Poe despised such pictures, and even cited them among his reasons for leaving the staff of Graham's Magazine in 1842: “My reason for resignation was disgust with the namby-pamby character of the Magazine. ... I allude to the contemptible pictures, fashion plates.”(113) Moreover, it is doubtful that figure 55 was drawn from life; the wooden quality of the figures is more suggestive of a dressmaker's mannikin than of a living model. It is almost needless to add that Edgar and Virginia Poe would seem odd choices for fashion models. Less than six months after figure ­[page 119:] 55 appeared in Graham's, Virginia would begin to show unmistakable symptoms of tuberculosis, while numerous descriptions of her husband attest to his want of decent clothing. The notion that an impoverished author and his frail wife would be asked to serve as fashion models is hard to credit.






[S:1 - PDEAP, 1989] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe (M. J. Deas) (The Graham's Magazine Fashion Plate)