Sunday, August 1, 2021

Stuffed Creatures Part 4: Great Gotham Sale

(To reference previous posts focusing on Edward Gorey's three dimensional creatures and beanbag animals, type "stuffed creatures" into the search engine.)

On June 30, 2021, Ashcroft and Moore Auctions hosted Gotham Gorey Squared, their second auction of items from The Gotham Book Mart's (GBM) remaining inventory. GBM closed in 2007 and the contents of the store went into hiding until recently coming to light. Ashcroft and Moore is one of several auction houses that has offered items from GBM's final inventory. 

Of special interest to collectors in this sale was a stunning collection of the various stuffed creatures that were completely hand made by Edward Gorey. These creatures were usually used as gifts to friends, but they would also occasionally be sold at his theatrical productions or through GBM.  Most of the creatures in this sale appear in quantity, but it should be remembered that each of these objects was hand made by Mr. Gorey himself and they are actually quite rare. Until this auction, these items have only rarely appeared on the secondary market.

Edward Gorey spent a lot of  time watching television and rather than just sit and stare at the screen, he multi-tasked and kept busy hand sewing these (and other) creatures while viewing programs. Mr. Gorey created stuffed Frogs in two basic styles - with splayed back legs, long front legs, and rounded toes (approximately 9.5" x 9.5"); and more streamlined version with short front legs and pointed toes (approximately 9" x 6"). There was no standard fabric color preference on the frogs, and most have small button eyes. 

This sale included one Figbash doll. Edward Gorey probably created more Figbash dolls than any other of his stuffed creatures, and they appear in a rainbow of fabric colors and patterns. While it was rare for Gotham to offer the other creatures for sale, Figbash dolls were usually available for purchase. According to the Gorey-made tags that Gotham included with these dolls, Figbash is presented "life sized" and is 6.5" x 19". With his long arms and short body, Figbash is supple and can be playfully draped in an infinite number of positions.

Salamanders are one of the more complex creatures Edward Gorey designed. Mr. Gorey stuffed his creatures with Uncle Ben's Rice - he claimed that this brand had the best pouring spout - and he used a chopstick to shove the rice into the nooks and crannies such as the salamander's curving tail. The salamanders are approximately 9" x 8" and tend to have less robustly colored fabrics. They tend to be well stuffed and are not as flexible as the frogs, which can be flopped and easily positioned into humorous attitudes. One of the salamanders has been created with a patriotic fabric that Mr. Gorey seemed to have a fondness for. He used this American flag motif often with other animals (but which were not part of this sale).

There was only one Alligator offered in this sale. At 10.5" x 5", it is one of the larger creatures created by Edward Gorey. Very few alligators are known.

The final set of creatures in this sale is one of the most perplexing. They are approximately 8" x 5" and appear in a variety of fabrics. Two of the pieces sold have eyes, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

Over the years, this creature has been described both as The Doubtful Guest and as a Penguin, with no definitive answer as to what it actually is meant to be. I recall Andreas Brown calling them penguins on occasion and the answer can presumably be found in Lot #427. This creature, in black fabric, is accompanied by a hand written note by Edward Gorey that is titled "Oiseau funebre (or what you get when you ask for a penguin). The title translates into "Funeral Bird", and penguins are one of the few animals that are known to mourn and bury their dead when a chick or mate dies, often gathering in groups.

Who asked for a penguin? Was this the first of its kind to be created? Unfortunately, we may never know for sure, but since this was part of the GBM inventory and presumably came direct from Edward Gorey himself, it can be assumed that Mr. Brown may have been the original recipient of this rare bird and that this flock is indeed intended to be penguins. To cover all the bases, one collector I know has started referring to them as Penguin Guests!




ScJ said...

My partner and I won a figbash at Gotham Gorey Squared and he is lovely.

ampootozote said...

I have added Figbash to the list of dolls sold.

Unknown said...

So cool! I got one of the salamanders and I couldn't be happier. I can't believe I have something that Edward made with his own two just thrilled. Never thought I'd have anything.

CJ said...

Edward's male lead in his hand-puppet parody of Madame Butterfly was Lt. Francis Hamstring of the Salvation Army, whose costume (a 3-fingered glove) he made from that American flag fabric. Most likely that's why he bought it, and the leftover cloth became stuffed animals. There's a photo on my website,

Anonymous said...

i have what you dub here an "alligator," it was given to me during the years i knew EG by the artist himself and is made in periwinkle linen, a color EG knew i liked - it's a little "worn" at this point but treasurable nevertheless. (if there's a way to post a snapshot of this, let me know if you'd like one posted here)