Friday, February 27, 2009

The Epiplectic Bicycle

In 1969, Edward Gorey published The Epiplectic Bicycle through Dodd, Mead & Company. The first edition of this hardcover book with matching dust wrapper is only distinguishable from the second printing by the price on the dust wrapper - 1st printings have a printed price of $3.00, second printings $3.95. Therefore, early copies with the price clipped dust wrapper cannot be called "true firsts" by the persnickety collector.

This title is included in Amphigorey Also, and is currently available as an individual reprint in hardcover. There have been several reprints of this title over the years, and the cover illustration was used on a tee shirt (see the photo at the bottom of this post). My first edition copy is signed and inscribed by Mr. Gorey. There is slight fading to the dust jacket. This book was obviously once stacked in a sunny area under books, and some fading occurred at the edges.

I am often asked which Gorey book is my favorite, and The Epiplectic Bicycle is it! From the "prologue" which reads, "It was the day after Tuesday and the day before Wednesday.", to the bicycle's final gasp of "Indeed!" this book is a perfectly faceted gem. We ride along with siblings Embley and Yewbert on a bicycle which has a purpose all its own. Each turn of the page is a revelation, with story and illustrations edited to the bare essentials so that what you experience is a clockwork-perfect blend of image and text.

Edward Gorey had a vocabulary that rivals the dictionary, and the title of this book is a perfect example. What does "Epiplectic" mean? Mr. Gorey presents us with this obscure word, but does not specify. The reader's first response is to say, "Oh, he made that up", but that is not the correct answer. To find out involves research (much easier now that we have the internet), with the ultimate gratification of having better understood the story though learning something new. Epiplectic is a form of the word epiplexis: a Greek word which means to chide or shame someone into better behavior. (As I say, the internet makes this easier. For more information about this word go to: ).

While ordering a pizza at a local take-out last summer, I had a surprise to find the alligator/bicycle from the cover riding up the forearm of the young woman who was serving me! She had the image prominently tattooed on her arm in full color, and was somewhat surprised that I knew where the image came from. A search on the internet has revealed that many people have adapted Gorey's images into tattoos. I love EG's work, but have yet to have it tattooed on my body!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Iron Tonic

The Iron Tonic: Or, A Winter Afternoon In Lonely Valley has been one of Edward Gorey's more difficult (and expensive) books to acquire as a first edition due to the small run of the original printing. Printed by The Albondocani Press in 1969, The Iron Tonic was created in a limited edition run of 226 signed, numbered (200)/lettered (A - Z) copies. This is Gorey's first book to appear as a signed/limited edition. Does the small print run indicate that Mr. Gorey did not think this book would sell well? All of EG's Fantod Press books to date were created in editions of 500 copies. I assume the publisher was responsible for distribution, so maybe the publisher limited the number of books to what they felt they could sell.

The illustrations for this story are Edward Gorey's most beautiful pen & ink landscape drawings. Every drawing is an exterior Winter scene which includes a "spyglass" detail, revealing another facet of the story. The Iron Tonic is reminiscent of the hauntingly beautiful drawings Mr. Gorey created for The West Wing. This limited edition book is printed on beautifully soft, fine paper. Due to its size and the suppleness of the paper, this fragile book feel like a memory in your hand.

This story is included in Amphigorey Too, and is currently available as a hardcover reprint. While it is always great to have Gorey's books in print, the drawings were reproduced smaller than the originals, which I feel diminishes the impact of the artwork. In the photo to the left, I am showing the original limited edition printing (front/center - my copy is numbered), the current reprint (yellow boards, left), the uncorrected proof for the new edition (right/center, very poorly printed) and the Diogenes reprint (right/back) in which the drawings are reproduced even smaller than the current reprint. For many years, the Diogenes reprint was the only option for those who wanted to get this title as a separate book.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Blue Aspic

Inspired by another of his passions as inspiration for a story, Edward Gorey takes us into the world of grand opera with The Blue Aspic. Published in 1968 by Meredith Press, the first edition of this title is a hardback book with matching pictorial dust wrapper. Later printings were published by Hawthorne Press and have no dust wrapper. This story is included in Amphigorey Also. Both my first edition and second printing copies of this title are signed by Mr. Gorey on the title pages.

The Blue Aspic starts off at a trot when loner Jasper Ankle buys a minor ticket for a major operatic triumph - the night when Ortenzia Caviglia makes her unexpected debut replacing the reigning diva who has been gotten out of the way with a box of candied violets. Jasper's obsession with Caviglia grows as her star continues to rise with the help of an unseen, deadly hand...Jasper's? As Jasper's madness deepens, his descent accelerates to the inevitable, deadly consequence of his passion for the star.

The story is over the top, entertaining, and full of triumphs and tragedies, just like the best opera plots (and Soap Opera plots, another favorite entertainment of EG's). We are treated to Mr. Gorey's inventive names for operas - Lizzia Bordena, La reine des iguanes, La Vengence Posthume, and people - the Duke of Whaup, and Caviglia (whose name translates as "ankle"). As is true of The Gilded Bat, Mr. Gorey is in his artistic prime with the illustrations for this volume, gleaning inspiration from his subject matter. Each panel is meticulously rendered with detailed settings, people and atmosphere which transports us to the world of Grand Opera.

On an topical entertainment note - If you ever wondered what the Spoffish emeralds might look like, all you had to do was tune in to the 81st Academy Awards last night and look at Angelina Jolie. She was missing the necklace which The Duke of Whaup gave to Caviglia, but could easily have been wearing the earrings and ring from the set!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Edward Lear

One of Edward Gorey's artistic inspirations was British artist/writer/illustrator Edward Lear. Mr. Lear (1812 - 1888) was the youngest of 21 children, and because his father could not support his offspring, young Edward went to live with his older sister Anne. As a way to help support the family, he began his career drawing and painting with his first published illustrations appearing in 1830 (at the age of 19). He received critical acclaim for his paintings, and was successful enough to have briefly given Queen Victoria drawing lessons in 1846.

Never a healthy man, Lear was afflicted by poor eyesight, epilepsy, bronchitis, asthma, and suffered from what he referred to as "the Morbids" (severe depression). Despite these conditions, Lear produced illustrated books of nonsense verse that amused his contemporaries and still entertain children and adults today. Loosely working within the limerick format, his verse delights as much in the sounds of words as it does for its content. Lear was a cat lover who outlived his cherished feline companion Foss by two months.

Edward Lear's most famous nonsense poem is The Owl and the Pussycat, but Edward Gorey chose to illustrate Lear's The Jumblies and The Dong with the Luminous Nose. The Gorey illustrated The Jumblies was published in 1968 by Young Scott Books, New York. In this volume, Mr. Gorey pays homage to his forbearer with exquisite illustrations and hand lettered text. The work is lovingly rendered and given the kind of artistic treatment Gorey usually reserved for his own works.

In 1969, again with Young Scott Books, Mr. Gorey illustrated Mr. Lear. The Dong with the Luminous Nose is also given V.I.P. treatment by Gorey. While I personally like this book less than its predecessor, the two volumes make a lovely set.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Reference Materials, Part 1

It is difficult to proceed in any area of collecting without accurate information. Through reference materials, we learn about our chosen collecting field and gain a handy resource to look up facts. Over the last 30 years of collecting the works of Edward Gorey, I have amassed a large amount of reference material about his work.

In addition to published books, catalogs and price lists, there is ample information online available to those who wish to know more about Mr. Gorey and his artistic achievements. The great source for all things Gorey online is . This website has more Gorey information and news than any other. Mecca for collectors is the Edward Gorey House, both in person and on-line: . I also hope that collectors at all levels will find this on-line blog informative and interesting.

Starting with the most recent and least obscure printed materials available about Mr. Gorey's works, there are several books that provide good information and visual stimulus for today's collector. I will show and discuss additional reference materials in a later posting.

Goreyography - 1996 by Henry Toledano with additional information by Jim Weiland and Malcolm Whyte. The most complete checklist of Gorey books, books designed/illustrated by EG, and illustrations in periodicals to date. Completed four years before Mr. Gorey's death, this book could use an update or addendum to complete it with work published from 1996 - 2001. The major flaw with this title is the inclusion of values for the books listed. The pricing information was almost immediately out of date since values always fluctuate, and the prices can only be referenced as "time capsule" information. Originally available as a signed/limited edition hardcover and also in paperback, this book is now available on the secondary market, and is an invaluable resource to any collector.

F is for Fantods - 2008 by Edward Bradford. A privately printed checklist of Mr. Gorey's Fantod Press titles. This booklet can be considered an expansion to Goreyography's information about the Fantod books, with some previously unpublished information about these titles and a cover illustration not seen before. Available as a signed/limited edition booklet in wrappers and also an unsigned edition from The Edward Gorey House. Solid information, clearly presented.

Elegant Enigmas the Art of Edward Gorey - This 2009 book is the catalog for the current traveling exhibition of Mr. Gorey's works that will open at the Brandywine Museum in Pennsylvania in March 2009. In addition to a checklist of art exhibited in the show, this book has a new essay on Gorey by author Karen Wilkin. The most unusual items exhibited at the show (and shown in the book) are the illustrated envelopes which young EG sent to his mother in 1948. This new hardcover book is available from the museum, at bookstores, and online.

Ascending Peculiarity - 2001 edited by Karen Wilkin. A collection of previously published interviews with Edward Gorey from various sources. For those who missed the original publications of these interviews in a wide range of magazines and even television programs, this is a great read with lots of information sprinkled throughout. Still available online and in bookstores in the original hardcover edition as well as the paperback reprint.

The World of Edward Gorey - 1996 by Clifford Ross and Karen Wilkin. This book starts with an interview with Gorey by Ross, the main subject of which is art. Karen Wilkin provides an essay. Great pictures of previously unseen pieces as well as old favorites. Originally available as a hard cover in a trade and limited edition, the paperback reprint is still available occasionally from online booksellers.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Gorey Festival

Published in 1968, The Gorey Festival brings together 4 early Edward Gorey titles into one slipcased edition. Put together by Astor-Honor Inc., New York, The Gorey Festival re-issues the four Gorey titles originally published by Ivan Obolensky.

The slipcase is blue/green cloth with an illustrated, pasted label on the front. This set includes The Sinking Spell, The Fatal Lozenge, The Curious Sofa and The Hapless Child. The four books have been made into uniformly sized volumes to fit into the slipcase, and the colors of the bindings are different than the original printings (with the exception of The Sinking Spell).

While the spines of all four volumes read Obolensky, the title pages of three of the books have been changed to read Astor-Honor, Inc., New York. All copyright page information in the books remains the same as the original printings, which can cause confusion today. These reprints were also sold as single volumes, so individual books with these variant bindings can be found today.

Obolensky Publishers obviously still had unsold copies of The Sinking Spell when this project was undertaken, because the books used for this slipcased edition are first edition printings. Also confusing today is the fact that The Sinking Spell, while still a first edition printing, was trimmed to fit into the slipcase. The width of the book was trimmed about 1/8" so all four books would match in size. The height was not trimmed and remains unchanged.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

1968 Edward Gorey Museum Show

In 1968, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts gave Edward Gorey his first major museum exhibition, Drawings and Books by Edward Gorey. The show was the brainchild of Charles Paul Helsell, assistant curator of the Department of Prints and Drawings at the MIA. Mr. Helsell was an early Gorey fan and collector, and many of the books displayed were culled from his and 3 other private collections. Original artwork for the exhibition was borrowed from Mr. Gorey.

Running from September 18th through October 27th, 1968 in the Herschel V. Jones Print Gallery, the exhibition included original artwork from eight of Gorey's books and had a total of 29 volumes on display. This exhibition was in fact a retrospective of Gorey's works to date, and The Institute of Arts gave the exhibition full treatment, producing an 11" x 17" poster/mailer and an eight page illustrated catalog (stated edition of 1000 copies). On the reverse of the poster was the MIA's return address and non-profit stamp because the poster was made to be folded in half and mailed out. Mr. Gorey does not appear to have created any artwork specifically for this show.

I met Mr. Helsell in 1984, when the Institute was preparing Gorey's second exhibition at the museum. Even though Mr. Helsell had left the MIA, he was called in as a consultant for the second exhibition. During preparations for the '84 show, Mr. Helsell presented me with a copy of the 1968 catalog which he inscribed for me on the last page. Printed at the back of the '68 museum booklet, Mr. Helsell contributed a short essay about Gorey's works, which he ends by stating that the work "has a quality which lingers after it has entertained or diverted. That is the elusiveness of his books."

Included in the exhibition:

Original Art and Books:
The Curious Sofa (an interesting choice for original art given the "pornographic" nature of the piece)
The Hapless Child
The Willowdale Handcar
The Vinegar Works (Art from all three volumes)
The Remembered Visit
The Gilded Bat

Additional Books on Display:
The Unstrung Harp
The Listing Attic
The Object-Lesson
The Bug Book
The Fatal Lozenge
The Beastly Baby
The Wuggly Ump
The Nursery Frieze
The Sinking Spell
The Pious Infant
The Evil Garden
The Inanimate Tragedy
The Utter Zoo
The Other Statue
The Monster Den by John Ciardi
The Adventures of Gremlin by DuPre Jones
The Dream World of Dion MacGregor by Dion MacGregor
The Haunted Looking Glass
You Read to Me, I'll Read to You by John Ciardi
The Jumblies by Edward Lear

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Other Statue

The Other Statue is a return to Edward Gorey's non-linear style of story- telling. Each page can stand alone and the events connect in a wacky kind of way, however "filling in the gaps" is left to the reader's imagination. As I have stated in previous posts, these are my personal favorite type of Gorey Stories.

Another great "Gorey Item" appears in this story - the Stuffed Twisby that ends up disemboweled. Over the years, my partner Bill has made several Gorey-inspired stuffed objects, and one of our dogs was once presented with a Twisby. True to form, she disemboweled it and it no longer exists!

On the back cover of the book, Mr. Gorey illustrated an announcement of The Secrets, The Night Bandage along with the banner To Follow. It is my understanding that this proposed title doesn't exist.

The Other Statue was published in 1968 by Simon and Schuster, New York, and is a hardcover book with a matching illustrated dust jacket. My first edition copy is signed and inscribed to me by Edward Gorey. This book appears in Amphigorey Again and is currently in print as a separate volume, available through online booksellers. I am showing my first printing, along an uncorrected proof copy for the most reprint of this title.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Utter Zoo

The Utter Zoo gives us Edward Gorey's unique version of a bestiary. This unusual collection of creatures first appeared in 1967 as a hard cover book with matching illustrated dust jacket. The first edition of The Utter Zoo was published by Meredith Press, New York, and was reprinted (without a dust jacket) by Hawthorne Books in 1974. My 1st edition copy of the book is signed and inscribed to me by Edward Gorey. The Utter Zoo was included in Amphigorey Also.

This alphabet book is a combination of EG's love of animals and great sense of humor. Beginning with the Ampoo and ending with the Zote, these imaginary creatures are sure to inspire and delight children as well as adults. Even in an alphabet book like this one however, the theme of death is underscored. The book ends with, "About the Zote what can be said? There was just one, and now its dead."