When a teenage Edgar Allan Poe moved to Boston to find work in 1827, he was eager to launch his literary career, re-establish his roots in the city of his birth and distance himself from his foster father in Richmond, Va. The result was his first book, "Tamerlane and Other Poems," a copy of which is shown at left, virtually unnoticed when published, but now one of the world's rarest and most sought-after texts.

Experts at Christie's auction house say it could sell for a record price for American literature. "This is known as the black tulip of U.S. literature," said Francis Wahlgren, head of books and manuscripts at Christie's in New York, which expects to get from $500,000 to $700,000 for the book on Friday. He thought the record is $250,000 for a copy of "Tamerlane" sold at auction nearly two decades ago. No more than 40 or 50 copies of "Tamerlane" were printed, and only 12 remain. Poe's name doesn't even grace the cover of the 40-page book, which is credited to "a Bostonian" -- a nod to his biological mother, Eliza Poe, who was from there.

The book being auctioned is stained and frayed. "It's kind of a beat-up copy," said William Self, the former president of Twentieth Century Fox Television who is selling it. Still, this is "a once-in-a-lifetime chance," Wahlgren said.

The book is a collection of poems, but the 403-line "Tamerlane" -- about an Eastern ruler on his death bed -- is the highlight. Christie's also is selling Self's rarities from Mark Twain, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and others. But "Tamerlane" is the centerpiece of the collection. "It's a wonderful book," Self said. "If you're going to collect Poe, the ultimate goal is 'Tamerlane.'"