Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Figbash Dolls

Edward Gorey first made hand-sewn dolls of his character Figbash to accompany the 26 lettered copies of The Raging Tide. Since his 1987 debut, Figbash has appeared in a series of fine art etchings, on many theatrical posters and postcards, and in an alphabet book where he contorts to form letters and numbers.

Following the publication of The Raging Tide, Edward Gorey first sold individual Figbash dolls in the lobby at the Theatre on the Bay in Bourne, Massachusetts during his production of Chinese Gossip. The dolls were made in very limited quantities and were sewn in solid black or solid white fabric. The dolls were priced at $25.00 each and all proceeds were used to help finance the the theater.

I had heard about these dolls and was able to purchase a black Figbash from the theater (via telephone). They had run out of the white version, and I was told they would try to obtain one for me. At the conclusion of the run of the play, theater director James Hadcroft sent me a white Figbash which had been part of the set from the production. Accompanying the doll was a letter stating, "It has seen more than most mortals". This white Figbash is stuffed with poly-beads, while all other Figbash dolls are stuffed with rice.

Not long after this, Gotham Book Mart heard that Mr. Gorey was selling the dolls and asked him to make some for the store to offer. Now that doll production became a small commercial endeavour, the price increased to $75.00 each and Mr. Gorey found himself continually sewing and stuffing the creatures while he watched television in the evenings. For the Figbash dolls offered through Gotham, Mr. Gorey switched from plain fabric to patterned textiles and Figbash went Technicolor (to match his colorful personality). The plain matte black and white dolls remain the earliest examples, and the "albino" examples are the rarest as only a very few were created. By late 1999, the price of a new Figbash doll had risen to $225.00. Today, prices for these rare Gorey collectibles continue to rise.

I always preferred the matte cotton fabric dolls, but Mr. Gorey often used shiny fabrics. I collected several Holiday Figbash Dolls which include a 4th of July and Christmas example. I also have a Figbash with a subtle blue leaf pattern over a black ground.

When Edward Gorey first started selling the dolls, they did not come with signed identification tags. I was told that he created the identification tags because people started asking GBM how they would know that Mr. Gorey himself sewed the pieces. When the tags arrived at GBM, Gina Guy would punch a hole in the corner and use ribbon to affix them to the dolls. I was supplied with tags retroactively for dolls I had already purchased and told I could punch them myself if I wanted to.

Finally, a word about preserving existing Figbash dolls. Because Mr. Gorey stuffed each doll with rice, they must be kept dry and away from pets and pests who might try to eat the rice. I have found that it is not a good idea to store them in a closed cabinet draped decoratively over books. In a closed environment, they can sometimes start to smell as they absorb the humidity inside the cabinet. It is also not a good idea to keep them inside a tightly sealed plastic bag. They like to breathe, but tend to get dusty when lounging out and about. To solve this problem, my partner Bill has sewn individual bags made of a sheer fabric with ribbon ties for my Figbash dolls so they can breathe and not get dusty. They reside in an open bowl, out of reach of our pets.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Raging Tide

The Raging Tide: or, The Black Doll's Imbroglio is yet another interactive book by Edward Gorey. In this publication, we once again see Mr. Gorey's child-like fascination with books and the experience of reading. On each page, the reader is asked to answer a multiple choice question. Based on the answer, the reader is instructed to turn to a specific page and continue the story. In this way, the book tells several stories using the same characters.

This is a perfect Gorey book for a young reader. The characters who inhabit this story are Figbash, Hooglyboo, Skrump and Naeelah, and their names are sure to produce giggles when read aloud. The four are constantly acting like unruly small children - hitting or throwing things at one another - so it is appropriate that each looks like a nursery toy that is a bit the worse for wear. The drawings for this title contain some of Edward Gorey's most surreal landscapes which are littered with giant thumbs sticking up out of the ground or carpet (these will appear in a series of his fine art etchings).

Published in 1987 by Beaufort Books, New York as a trade hard cover in illustrated boards with a matching dust jacket, The Raging Tide was also made available to collectors as a signed limited edition with a tipped in colophon page in an edition of 200 numbered copies and 26 lettered (A to Z) copies. The Raging Tide was included in Amphigorey Again. I am showing copies #M/26 and #129/200.

The lettered (A - Z) copies were issued with a wonderful surprise for the Gorey enthusiast. With each of the 26 copies, Mr. Gorey included a personally made, hand-sewn doll of the character Figbash. The Raging Tide marks the first appearance of Figbash, a dancing, prancing creature with no eyes or mouth, but a definite zest for life. The Figbash dolls were sewn in a flat black cotton and stuffed with rice. Mr. Gorey soon began a cottage industry in Figbash dolls, and I will address these unique Gorey collectibles in the next post.

The earliest printings of The Raging Tide were printed with a mistake to the dust wrapper. The illustration on the dust wrapper is meant to extend completely across the front of the book and end where the flaps fold inside the book. On the very first printings, the illustration was printed short so that it did not extend to the fold, leaving a white line near the flaps (see the dust jacket pictured lower left). Almost all of these dust wrappers were destroyed, but Gotham Book Mart retained a few for collectors and put them on first edition copies of the book along with a correct dust wrapper. The trade copy I am showing to the left is signed and inscribed to me by Mr. Gorey.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Gorey Tattoo

If you have not yet seen it, check out the video regarding American Idol contestant Siobhan Magnus and her "Tinies" tattoo. The video is posted on and The video segment features the EGH's own Duncan Gibson being interviewed inside the museum.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Improvable Landscape

Published by The Albondocani Press, New York as a signed limited edition in 1986, The Improvable Landscape is a book by Edward Gorey which I particularly enjoy. The landscape drawings are beautifully rendered, and the captions are a delight. One phrase in particular, "Worth paying to see", has become a standard expression at my home.

The Improvable Landscape was published in an edition of 300 numbered 26 lettered (A to Z) copies. I am showing copies #120/300 and T/26 below, along with the announcement card for this publication.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Les Echanges Malandreux

1984 saw the publication of another interactive flip book by Edward Gorey. Les Echanges Malandreux was printed by the Commonwealth Press for publisher Metacom Press, Worchester, MA. Published in an edition of 500 numbered and 26 lettered (A to Z) signed copies. Like Mr. Gorey's other flip books, this hand sewn volume will probably not be republished.

LEM is something of a challenge to look at without damaging the book. The soft paper covers open to reveal the limitation and again to reveal the contents. Inside, there are four sewn gathers of folded pages containing 32 images and printed remarks. By flipping the upper and lower pages, the characters interact in unique ways. The problem is that the white content pages are fairly stiff and the binding is quite flexible, so it is easy to damage the binding of this book. It is a book where an extra pair of hands is useful when viewing the piece.

I am showing copies #175/500 and #T of 26. Below is the announcement card that was used to introduce this volume in advance of its publication.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Gorey at Auction

Last week an unusual piece of original Edward Gorey artwork was sold at auction. It is notable because it is one of the pieces from the 1974 Graham Gallery Exhibition (see my postings from June 30, and July 3 & 6, 2009) . The piece was listed on the original checklist as "#17. A Dull Afternoon". As you can see, it is quintessential Gorey! Unfortunately, I did not win the bidding for this wonderful piece of art, but it is nice to see another image from this important show.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost

In 1985, John Bellairs continued his series of ghost/mystery stories with The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost published by Dial Books for Young Readers. In this volume, Johnny Dixon spends much of the story lying in bed possessed by the demonic spirit of a deceased evil wizard, Warren Windrow. The ever cantankerous Professor Childermass and Johnny's best friend Fergie head out to the old Windrow estate in search of a way to free their friend.

Edward Gorey provided artwork for the full wrap around dust jacket, the hand lettered type for the cover and spine, a frontis drawing, and two interior spot illustrations. I have all of these pieces of art in my collection, and also have the water color sketch Mr. Gorey made for the dust wrapper design.

I own the art from this book because of the stained glass window illustrated on the back of the dust jacket. My partner and I own a stained glass studio (, so when this art was offered for sale, Andreas Brown of Gotham Book Mart thought I should be the person to acquire it! I do think that it would be fun to create an actual stained glass window based on this design some day.

Mr. Gorey often blocked out color paintings by making a loosely painted sketch before proceeding with the final illustration. I am not aware of any other preliminary art which exists from the Bellairs series. The preliminary art shows all the major elements in place for the dust jacket, although the evil floating face in front of Johnny on the cover is inexplicably smiling! This piece of art is a wonderful look into how Edward Gorey sketched out his paintings. Artists often create color renderings before attacking complicated paintings, and Mr. Gorey's sketches are always very loose. This piece has paint liberally splashed about!

The completed cover art is beautifully executed with lots of Mr. Gorey's trademark crosshatching over watercolor. It has been pointed out on (THE website for all things John Bellairs) that on the first edition hard cover edition of this book, the spelling on the stained glass window is incorrect - "ZABU". It is corrected on the paperback edition to "ZEBU". Looking closely at the original artwork, there is a practically invisible paste-up over the showing where Mr. Gorey corrected his mistake. This misspelling is even more unusual considering the word is spelled correctly on the sketch.

I am always a sucker for hand-lettered typeography (one of the reasons I like the look of Gorey books so much), so I was happy that the type for the cover of this book was not lost. This piece makes a lovely piece of original artwork on its own and free up the dust jacket painting so the viewer can focus on the image alone.

The frontis drawing is wonderfully detailed with the moody manor house engulfed by overgrown foliage, and key elements of the story presented for inspection in the foreground. I especially like the evil "familiar" standing in the gateway with its hooded cloak and slimy tentacle protruding from one sleeve. This character makes me think of the Dementors from the Harry Potter stories.

The two pieces of interior artwork complete the collection from this title. The smaller of the two could have easily been lost over the years, and the diagram drawn by "Professor Coote" at the end of the story is another example of the care Edward Gorey took for even simple illustrations.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

More Treehorn

In 1971, Edward Gorey illustrated The Shrinking of Treehorn for author Florence Parry Heide (see my posting from April 30, 2009). The "Treehorn Trilogy" wasn't completed until the 1980's with the publication of Treehorn's Treasure (1981) and Treehorn's Wish (1984). All volumes in the trilogy were published by Holiday House, New York. The books were published as hardcover books with illustrated dust jackets. The printed boards are shown at the bottom of this listing.

There is a quirkiness to all of the Treehorn stories that would have very much appealed to Edward Gorey. The adults really don't interact with young Treehorn, but rather keep following their own paths while minimally acknowledging the boy and what he is trying to tell or explain to them. In the end, Treehorn is usually left to use his own ingenuity to work out his situations.

According to the Edward Gorey House web site, original artwork from this series will be on display this year at the museum.