Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Au Secours Mystery

Swann Auction Galleries recently sold Au Secours, a signed, numbered, limited edition collagraph print by Edward Gorey. After the sale, it was brought to my attention that the print, which was hand numbered 13/50, should have been numbered from an edition of 25. What is the story behind the numbering? In French, Au Secours means "help". This is an appropriate name for this print!

As stated in previous postings, Edward Gorey created a total of 82 Fine Art etchings and collagraph prints, and that Mr. Gorey did not follow proper print making etiquette, which would cause him (and later his estate and collectors) many headaches over time. This is one of those times.

Rather than produce the complete run of an image before moving on to the next print, Mr. Gorey decided to pull only 10 or 20 impressions of each print against an anticipated total print run of 25 to 95 impressions. This was done so he could keep his printing costs manageable while offering as many images as possible at one time. The first prints were hand signed and numbered 1/95 through 10/95, and when those ten prints sold, 11/95 through 20/95 were printed, signed, and offered for sale. This would continue until the print run was complete (most runs were not completed during Mr. Gorey's lifetime) - but the entire run for each image was never printed at one time.

This irregular system meant that Edward Gorey had to keep a record of the number of prints made to date, so he had a notebook with details on his prints. At one point in the late 1990's, the book was mislaid and all print production came to a halt until the book could be found (it was). This also meant that Mr. Gorey opened himself up to the possibility of making mistakes in the numbering of prints, and this apparently is what happened with Au Secours.

The first 10 impressions of Au Secours were numbered as an edition of 25 and were sold through Gotham Book Mart. When the first ten prints were sold, the second portion of the edition was attempted, but the plate fell apart after only 7 more prints were pulled. Because of this, there are only 17 impressions of this print in existence, even though the numbering indicates that a larger edition was intended.

After the Swan auction, I contacted several collectors to find out which print numbers they had. I have print #8/25 in my collection and this print was acquired from Gotham Book Mart in the 1990's. Another collector let me know that they have #4/25. Swann auctioned #13/50, and yet another collector has #17/50.

It can be reasonably assumed that Edward Gorey simply made a mistake when numbering the remaining 7 prints, putting an edition of 50 on the second set instead of the originally intended 25. This type of mistake would not have happened if the entire print run had been completed at one time.

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