Friday, October 31, 2008

The Haunted Looking Glass

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!! For Halloween, I thought I would linger on a classic horror tale.

The Haunted Looking Glass was published in 1959 by the Looking Glass Library and showcases Edward Gorey's artistic talent at the peak of his game. In addition to choosing which ghost stories to include in this collection, Gorey provided an absolutely stunning full page illustration for each tale. These drawings exemplify Mr. Gorey's fully formed and considerable talent for illustration. Each title page drawing is dripping with atmosphere and suspense, bringing the story to life for the reader.

In 1995, with his home literally falling about his head and in need of immediate repair, Mr. Gorey decided to sell some of his original illustration holdings through Gotham Book Mart. One of the suites of illustrations he offered for sale was the artwork from The Haunted Looking Glass. At the time I was only able to purchase one piece from this set and had to make my decision quickly because many collectors were lining up to get at the artwork! I decided to purchase the illustration for The Monkey's Paw by W. W. Jacobs, which is arguably the most "classic" story in the book.

This beautiful drawing shows how far Mr. Gorey progressed artistically in the six years since he started working as a professional artist. Using only pen and ink on white paper, the variety in the line work provides a tense, moody backdrop for the scene. The theatrical effect of the shriveled monkey's paw on the table is accentuated by the glow on the faces and the darkening of the chairs around the circle of onlookers. This subtle use of light and shadow makes the tiny dreaded object the center of attention.

Along with my first edition of The Haunted Looking Glass, this illustration was displayed as part of the exhibit "Reading and Collecting Books, Minnesota Book Collectors" which was held from June 8 to August 11, 1996 in the Cargill Gallery at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Looking Glass Library

In 1959, Edward Gorey left his position as an art director at Anchor Books (see my post from October 7, 2008) and joined forces with Jason Epstein and Celia Carroll in the newly formed Looking Glass Library. The idea behind this publishing venture was to revisit and repackage classic children's books for a modern (1960) audience.

Building on their experiences at Anchor, in which academic and classic literature was given a fresh look through modern cover art, books in the LGL series were sized to look alike and each title was illustrated with interior illustrations and colorful covers. The LGL books appear as a set when shelved together and each book in the series is numbered on the spine. Mr. Gorey worked as the art director as well as editor for the series. Many (if not all) of the titles draw on Gorey's personal taste in juvenile literature and authors chosen for the series include (among others) E. Nesbit, Andrew Lang, and L. Frank Baum.

Looking Glass Library was a short lived venture which only lasted until 1962. After LGL disbanded, Mr. Gorey (who turned 37 in February of that year) decided it was time to work as a freelance artist/writer/ illustrator and never held a full time job for an outside employer again.

Probably the two most sought after titles in the series are The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells and The Haunted Looking Glass which is a series of classic ghost stories selected by Edward Gorey. In both of these books, Gorey provided new cover art and interior illustrations.

Mr. Gorey's illustrations for The War of the Worlds are humorous rather than scary and seem to be inspired by a day at the beach. His aliens look like a cross between an octopus and a jellyfish. I wonder if he included this title in the series because he found it to be humorous rather than scary and illustrated it accordingly. When asked about his illustrations for TWotW in later years, he is quoted in an interview as saying "the less said about those, the the better".

In contrast to the cartoon style of TWotW, Gorey created some of his most beautiful artwork to date for The Haunted Looking Glass. For this title, he provided one full page illustration at the beginning of each of the tales he selected. The illustrations are elegant, haunting, stylish and fully realized - in short, they represent some of his finest illustration work.

The two volumes shown above are both first editions. There have been recent reprints of both titles. My copy of The Haunted Looking Glass was included in the show, "Reading and Collecting Books, Minnesota Book Collectors" which was held from June 8 to August 11, 1996 in the Cargill Gallery at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Object Lesson

The Object Lesson, Edward Gorey’s fourth published work, puts a formula in place that will reoccur in his books for years to come. Seemingly disjointed events and pictures tell an obtuse story that in the end is satisfying and unnerving, though unresolved. This kind of storytelling will become Mr. Gorey’s stock in trade, and reveals his active interest in nonsense and avante garde poetry and prose.

In the perfect Gorey world, words and pictures work together to form a cohesive, if sometimes incomprehensible whole. His use of white space on the page speaks as loudly as his obsessive line work, and his words (all hand lettered) serve to compliment and complicate the meaning of the pictures. Mr. Gorey's use of humor is also front and center in this title. The Object Lesson has it all for the Gorey fan!

The first printing of The Object Lesson was published in 1958 by Doubleday and Company, Inc, and has illustrated boards which match the dust jacket (see the above photos of the front and back). The secondary binding has black boards, but no change to the dust jacket or interior of the book (the copyright page still says "first edition"). See the photo to the right of a first printing and a second printing without dust jackets. Both of these copies are signed and the 1st/1st is inscribed to me by Mr. Gorey.

The English first edition was published by Anthony Blond in 1958 and the color of the binding has changed to "oatmeal". In the photo to the left, the English first is on the right so you can see the color change.

The Object Lesson is included in Amphigorey and a reprint is currently available as a single book. While it is wonderful to have works by Edward Gorey available as individual books, the current batch of reprinted Gorey titles are generally printed smaller than the originals (when originally published, he was adamant that books be printed life size to the drawings). Often the printing quality on these reprints is not as crisp as the first edition printings.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Gorey's First Commercial Work

Edward Gorey began his career as a commercial artist with the most unGoreylike work he ever produced! Look Who's Abroad Now by Earl Wilson was published in 1953 by Doubleday and Company and features dust jacket and endpaper designs by Edward Gorey. His work on this book looks nothing like his future work.

This is a humorous travel book following the adventures of Mr. Wilson and his wife and it is illustrated with photos. Even though the flap copy states that "no home should be without" Mr. Wilson's books, I find this volume to be fairly unremarkable but for the fact that it is Mr. Gorey's introduction into the world of commercial art.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Gorey's First Appearance in Print

Edward Gorey was just 25 when his artwork had its first appearance in print. Six cartoons by Gorey graced the endpapers of Dr. Merrill Moore's Illegitimate Sonnets in 1950. In these cartoons, Gorey shows Dr. Moore administering to an ailing sonnet (the sonnet is the figure with a laurel wreath on his head). At the right, I show the front endpapers and below are the drawings at the back of the book. Instantly recog- nizable is Gorey's earliest style of drawing people with their exaggerated "basset hound" heads.

Gorey provided illustrations for three more books by Dr. Moore, Clinical Sonnets in 1950 (Gorey's endpaper cartoons appear in the 3rd printing of this title, the first two printings from 1949/1950 having no illustrations), Case Record from a Sonnetorium in 1951 (Gorey fully illustrated this title, including the cover and 51 interior illustrations), and finally More Clinical Sonnets in 1953 . In More Clinical Sonnets, Gorey once again provided interior illustrations throughout the text. These illustrations are very loose and sketchy and not the tighter crosshatched style that Gorey would soon develop more fully in The Unstrung Harp (see my blog posting for October 11, 2008).

While these books are somewhat rare, they can be found in the Psychology or Poetry sections of used book stores. When I came across my copy of Illegitimate Sonnets, the dealer did not realize it was an early Gorey item and had it priced quite reasonably.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Doubtful Guest Doll

Over the years, there have been a variety of stuffed dolls created in the likenesses of Edward Gorey characters. Some have been mass produced while others were hand sewn by Edward Gorey himself while he watched television. One of the most highly sought after stuffed creations is the limited edition Doubtful Guest doll.

At 13" tall, the Doubtful Guest is a perfect three dimensional embodiment of Gorey's unusual character from the book by the same name. Much time and effort went into the creation of these dolls and because they were made in very limited quantities, they can be quite difficult to find. Each doll was meticulously crafted with removable leather tennis sneakers and the DG's trademark striped scarf. Like the Doubtful Guest, Gorey himself went about draped in an enormous striped scarf in his college days.

Manufactured in the San Francisco area, Doubtful Guest dolls are hand signed and numbered by Mr. Gorey on a tag attached to the scarf (Gorey did not work on the construction of these dolls himself). The DG in my collection has a signed tag which is numbered C 5. There seems to be some confusion as to the exact signature sequence of the dolls which were made in more than one edition. Since my doll came from Gotham Book Mart, yet does not follow the numbering sequence set forth in Goreyography, I am still trying to find someone who knows precisely how many DG dolls were created and in which order.

My Doubtful Guest doll happily resides under a glass bell jar in my home in much the same way that Mr. Gorey so often illustrated stuffed curiosities in his works.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Doubtful Guest

One of Edward Gorey’s most enduring and popular characters, the Doubtful Guest first appears on the scene in this self titled 1957 book published by Doubleday & Company. For a character that only appears in one book (and makes a brief appearance in Leaves from a Mislaid Album 1972), the Doubtful Guest is instantly recognizable to any Goreyphile. He has remained so popular over the past 51 years that there is a movie currently in the works with the Jim Hensen Workshops. How they will turn this slight, charming story into a full length movie has yet to be seen, but I for one am looking forward to it!

Due to his appearance, the Doubtful Guest is usually described as a penguin-like creature, but I have always found his behavior to be more cat-like. Knowing Mr. Gorey’s fondness for cats, it seems very likely that many of the DG’s personality traits come from felines. His habits of staring at walls, falling asleep in urns and “sleepwalking” around the house at night are all typical cat traits. Even the way he enters the story, coming to the door, moving in and being tolerated when he doesn't leave is reminiscent of a stray cat with a strong personality.

My copy of The Doubtful Guest is signed by Mr. Gorey and inscribed to me. In addition to being included in Amphigorey, this book has been reprinted several times and is currently in print.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Listing Attic

Gorey’s second published volume, The Listing Attic was published by Duell, Sloane and Co. in 1954. This book can be more difficult than The Unstrung Harp to find in good condition because the dust jacket and boards are printed with dark ink on white paper which readily shows every scuff , scrape and tear.

The Listing Attic is a book of limericks that were obviously written and illustrated over a period of time. This is evident by the lack of a cohesive illustration style throughout the book. Some drawings are no more than scratchy sketches, others appear half finished, while many are highly polished and densely crosshatched. The layout of individual illustrations will also range from minimalistic line work floating in a field of white to dense, black blocks above the hand lettered type. In later books, Gorey usually picks one style and illustrates the book accordingly.

It almost comes across as if Gorey is searching for an overall look for his work and wants to see what all the various styles he works in will look like when printed. I think this slightly muddled approach adds to the charm of The Listing Attic, giving each limerick an individual personality which prevents them from all running together visually.

The copy I own is signed by Edward Gorey and inscribed to me by him. Many of the books in my collection have been inscribed to me by Mr. Gorey. My copy of this title was exhibited at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in "Gorey Stories, Books and Drawings by Edward Gorey" from October 26, 1984 through March 17, 1985.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Unstrung Harp

Edward Gorey’s first published book, both written and illustrated by him, was The Unstrung Harp. Published in 1953, this book is the starting point for any serious book collection of Edward Gorey volumes.

Printed by Duell, Sloan and Pearce, Little Brown and Company, New York/Boston, the book is hard cover with an illustrated dust jacket. In the photo below, you will see three copies of this title: my signed first printing, a German language edition and an early reprint. This title has had several reprints and also appears in Amphigorey.

The Unstrung Harp has the distinction of being virtually the only Gorey book where the written word is as lengthy as the illustrations are detailed. It is said that you should write about that which is familiar to you, and Mr. Gorey did just that in this book.

The tale is of an author struggling to find the right story to fit a title plucked at random from a list of hopeful book titles (a practice Gorey indulged in). It goes on to detail all the attendant difficulties involved in writing a novel. Because Gorey is still developing his signature style, the illustrations for this title are wonderfully complex while still exhibiting a looseness of line that is not present in later works.

The title character, Mr. Earbrass, has a profile similar to that of a basset hound. This is Gorey's earliest style of drawing people and he soon shortened his figure's profiles to a more realistic shape. I am especially fond of the wacky plot twists (even though much of the story takes place in Mr. Earbrass' home) and unusual names for places and characters. These devises all have a ring of truth behind them and I can easily picture Mr. Gorey, like Mr. Earbrass, rattling around his home distractedly while working out plot developments.

My first edition of this title is signed by Edward Gorey on the title page and was exhibited at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in "Gorey Stories, Books and Drawings by Edward Gorey" from October 26, 1984 through March 17, 1985.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Early Original Artwork

While any piece of original Edward Gorey artwork is a rarity, early artwork such as the Anchor cover (see blog entry for October 8, 2008) by Edward Gorey can be especially difficult to find. The earliest piece of Gorey original art I have in my collection is from around 1950.

This “pre-Earbrass” art (Mr. Earbrass being the main character in Gorey’s first book) is reported to have been exhibited in Gorey’s first public art exhibition which took place at the Mandrake Book Shop near Harvard. I have been told that Gorey worked at the Mandrake “for about a day”. I have never been able to find a list of the original illustrations that were shown at this exhibition, and I have never seen any other piece of art from this show.

This lovely piece shows an Edwardian gentleman poised on the running board of his early motor car. The elongated profile of the gentleman, his attire and the two dimensional quality of the vehicle are all signature Gorey motifs. The initial signature at the lower right of the drawing is consistent with Gorey’s earliest pieces.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Have You Heard of Edward Gorey?

"Have you heard of Edward Gorey?"

This is a question that I have asked many people over the years. I have found that while most people are familiar with Mr. Gorey's animated introduction for Mystery on PBS, many do not know about his books. When first introducing someone to EG’s works, I always start them out on the same book: The Gashlycrumb Tinies.

The Gashlycrumb Tinies either makes people laugh or else they just don’t get it (or don't like it). Anyone who laughs usually wants to see more, and I am happy to oblige. I believe that most people who collect Gorey’s works are first drawn to his humor. I don’t remember which of his books was the very first I read, but by December 1979 I had asked my parents for a copy of Amphigorey for Christmas.

Some of the earliest in-print titles I remember buying at the bookstore were The Loathsome Couple, The Glorious Nosebleed and of course, Tinies.

Original Anchor Artwork

I have one original Edward Gorey drawing for an Anchor cover in my collection. Hamlet and Oedipus was drawn in 1954 and is labeled as Anchor A31 on the spine. I find it interesting that EG drew the full size outline of the entire front and back cover (see the photo at the bottom of the listing), positioned the spine and cover illustration appropriately but the type-set copy block was never pasted in position for the rear cover. To lay down a type paste-up would have been a standard practice at the time. It is also fun to note that the price of 75 cents on the artwork has changed to 95 cents on the book cover I am showing. Even though the copyright page of the book does not state that this is a later printing, the price of the book increased in subsequent printings and the "95 cents" appears in a standard typeface on the book and not in Gorey's hand written script. A reader of this blog has told me that they have copies showing 75, 85 and 95 cents in their collection.

I have only ever seen three pieces of original artwork from Gorey's Anchor period - I would assume that more survives since he worked on almost 200 titles, but I have only seen three.

During his time at Anchor, Mr. Gorey was working on his own early books in his off time. He reportedly worked very quickly and deftly at Anchor and thus had time during the day to pull out his own work once he had finished the day's assignments.

This original Hamlet and Oedipus illustration was exhibited as part of "GOREY WORLD, Paintings and Drawings by Edward Gorey" at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, CA from September 18, 1996 to January 12, 1997. I acquired this piece of art after it was exhibited in this show.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Anchor Days

Around 1953, Edward Gorey went to work for Anchor Books and began designing paperback covers for reprints of classics and for academic titles used primarily by colleges. These books were produced to be affordable and the look of the books was fresh and eye-catching. Mr. Gorey was personally responsible for the design and layout of close to 200 books - many of which he also drew cover illustrations for! Gorey is quoted as stating that it was faster and easier for him to draw the type on the covers than to have it typeset and position it, and this gave the books the distinctive design quality that makes them unique. This practice began the lifelong habit of hand lettering the type in his books.

Today, many of these early works can be found very inexpensively at local bookstores that carry vintage paperbacks. I only started picking up the Anchor titles in earnest during the last few years - mainly because I needed a “Gorey Fix” and they were at hand.

To find out much more information on Gorey’s years at Anchor, go to for an informative article.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Getting Started

I first became aware of the works of Edward Gorey in 1979 during my freshman year of college at the Philadelphia College of Art and was instantly hooked. After buying a few books at local bookstores (this was pre-internet, of course), I began to look for more titles by this author. I kept searching, turning up new titles and increasing my stash of unusual little volumes.

It wasn’t until about two years later (after I transferred to The Minneapolis College of Art and Design) that I discovered The Gotham Book Mart in New York City and found out what I had gotten myself into! Adding to my collection of works by Gorey became an obsession and I started to seriously collect every new title that came out in addition to looking for hard to find out of print titles.

I had the good fortune to be able to visit NYC and Gotham yearly, and through the guidance and direction of P. Matthew Monaghan (then director of the gallery) I became more knowledgeable about the works of Edward Gorey. Over the past 27 years, the staff at Gotham Book Mart has been a HUGE help in the building of my collection. At Gotham, in addition to Matthew, I have been lucky to work with Gina Guy, Kevin McDermott and Andreas Brown, each of whom has contributed greatly to my appreciation of all things Gorey.

I continue to actively search out and collect pieces to add to my collection through the internet, auctions, and a network of dealers (Gotham Book Mart is sadly out of business). The photo at the left shows the bookcase that houses my primary Gorey book collection. We will be delving into this book case to look at individual items in future postings.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Welcome to my Edward Gorey blog. In this blog, I will share pieces from my Edward Gorey collection which includes books, ephemera and original artwork. I welcome comments, questions and enthusiastic observers! I plan to keep things informal and hope that anyone who visits my blog might learn something they didn’t know about Edward Gorey and his work. All items shown on this blog are part of my private collection.