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The Coats of Edward Gorey

January 4, 2011 | by

Over the years, Edward Gorey collected twenty-one fur coats, which he was notorious for wearing with Converse sneakers, often to the New York City Ballet. Sometime in the eighties, however (he died in 2000), Gorey seems to have had a change of heart. He opened portions of his home to a family of raccoons that finally settled in the attic. According to a tour guide at the Edward Gorey House, this was an act of penance; Gorey felt guilty for wearing their fur. At some point he locked up his coats in a storage facility. In his will, he left his entire estate to the care and welfare of animals.

Among the many beneficiaries of the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust: the Xerces Society, dedicated to biological diversity through invertebrate conservation; the Bat Conservation International Foundation; and the Animals League of Boston (Cape Cod branch). But because of this commitment to our furry friends, the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust faced a difficult decision when it came to his coats. One of them—the one Gorey sketched most frequently—hangs on display in the museum. But the cost of properly storing the others was exorbitant. The trustees began to sell one coat a year. After some deliberation, the trustees decided last year to auction off the remainder in one go. For a Gorey fan, it was an unimaginable opportunity.

The sale was held at Bloomsbury Auctions on West 48th Street in New York. Despite some advance press, it was a sparsely attended affair; most of the seats were empty. Of the dozen or so people scattered among the seats, most showed the true and devoted look of a Gorey fan. The coats hung on a rack in the back of the room, and people took turns trying them on. One raven-haired woman posed for a picture, wrapping the fur around her. As we took our seats, an older gentleman sat down behind us, wearing a three-piece suit with a watch chain—the kind of ensemble Gorey could have sketched in his sleep.

Sketches by Edward Gorey, courtesy of the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust. Photograph of the coats by the author.

Although I count myself among Gorey’s most devoted admirers, I couldn’t afford to bid over the highest estimate, which ranged from $800 to $1,200. A friend who accompanied me gave me stern instructions: “We have to decide which coat you want. You have to imagine yourself winning it.” She looked around the room, studying the other bidders, searching for competition and deep pockets. “Someone is going to want all of them,” she warned.

Once the auction began, anxiety set in. The coat I had settled on was second to last. As my friend predicted, one person was snapping up nearly every lot. Perhaps it was adrenaline, perhaps it was my irrational desire to own a part of Edward Gorey, but I began to bid on coats I didn’t want or couldn’t have even worn. I stayed in far longer than my budget allowed. The coats were selling for $3,000 to $6,000. Part of me knew I would be beyond broke if I won, but I assured myself that winning was impossible.

The coat on which I had my heart set—a stunning Fischer Stroller designed by Gorey himself—went to the mysterious bidder at the back of the room. I was disappointed but relieved and ready to go home. I had tried. But wait! As a model walked down the aisle wearing the final coat, someone from the back pointed out a mistake. The last two coats had been accidentally swapped on their hangers. The auctioneer would reset the bidding, something he said he’d never done before. I would get another chance. The first coat—the Gorey-designed coat—went for $3,800, and I lost again. Then the last coat went on the block: a Lorraine mink stroller. I hadn’t tried it on; for some reason I had overlooked it on the rack. It wasn’t designed by Gorey, but it was gorgeous.

I won the coat. I won the coat that moments ago sold for triple the price I could afford to pay. Everyone cheered. It wasn’t a miracle. The other bidders, with the sympathetic eyes of Goreyites, had allowed me to win. They watched my enthusiastic, haphazard pursuit of a coat, and they had gotten behind me. On the elevator down, the dapper gentleman dressed in a three-piece suit said to me, “You’ve got more than a fur coat, you’ve got a coat with a pedigree. You can’t go out without sparkle at your throat. You must live up to this coat!” In many ways, he’s right. But it’s not the sparkle on my throat that will do this coat justice. It’s those two sparkling stars on the outside of my heels—my Converse sneakers—that will make it live.

The author wearing the Edward Gorey coat she won. Photograph by Lauren Cerand.

A. N. Devers is founder and editor of Writers’ Houses, an online publication dedicated to literary pilgrimage. She is on the editorial board of Pen America’s journal and teaches at Adelphi University. She is working on her first book.

36 COMMENTS

23 Comments

  1. Manisha | January 4, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    What a curiously interesting narrative!
    The coat looks pretty good on you; I can imagine the Converse Sneakers too.

  2. gae polisner | January 4, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    I was a huge gorey fan as a kid/teen and had his Amphigorey 3d set up in my room. You look fab in that coat.

    Enjoyed the piece.

  3. Steve Silberman | January 4, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    He was a wonderful guy. While visiting his nephew, I used to have lunch with “Uncle Ted” each summer on Cape Cod, in a restaurant strictly-for-locals called Jack’s Outback, which featured a tip jar with that unmistakable handwriting: “For the Widows and Orphans.” I miss him a lot.

  4. D. Lee | January 4, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    Good for you, A.N. Devers!

  5. shakeer | January 4, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    Wait, I don’t understand. When you write that the other bidders “let you win” do you mean they would have bid higher but refrained from doing so because after noticing you make a fuss?

    If so, way to loot some possible charity from those conservation organizations. At least you look nice in an animal carcass.

  6. Ali B. | January 4, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    Great story! Your triumph actually brought tears to my eyes. :) And I love hearing how he became an animal advocate later in life. All those furs…

  7. Matt | January 4, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    I hate to rain on your parade, but wouldn’t it be truly fitting to follow in Gorey’s footsteps and contribute your hard-earned cash to causes that help animals? I can hardly congratulate you on acquiring the coat. He locked them up, and left his estate to such causes for a reason. I’m a Gorey fan. Much like him, I’d rather the animals be happy and alive. Parading around in an old, dead animal skin seems hardly appreciative.

  8. A. N. | January 4, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    Matt,

    Just to clarify: the money raised at the auction goes to animal welfare organizations. The estate’s ownership of the fur coats was costing them money. Auctioning the coats is in line with Gorey’s wishes that his estate go to the care and welfare of animals. I understand what you are getting at, but I don’t plan on “parading around in” this object even if I wear it. I plan on honoring and respecting the coat for its story and history, which I find considerable value in. It is a part of Gorey’s legacy, just as his beautiful drawings of fur coats are a part of his legacy. Should we shut those drawings away in a storage facility too?

    AND

  9. Eric Shalit | January 4, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    Aren’t you going to tell us how much you got it for? With a coat like that you really don’t need any other clothing except maybe shoes.

  10. Matt | January 5, 2011 at 2:50 am

    Thanks for the clarification. I’m sure the estate raised some decent cash, and can continue doing well by the animals. And I appreciate your zeal for Gorey’s legacy. No, the drawings should not be locked aways in storage. I don’t agree with depicting fur coats as luxury items, but they were a part of the eras Gorey would portray. I still adore his aesthetic as a whole.

    As an animal lover, fur coats–historic or not–just wreak of ostentatiousness and cruelty to me. I think the best use for unwanted furs are as donations to homeless people on freezing city streets.

  11. Philip Spedding | January 5, 2011 at 10:04 am

    My girlfriend and I sat a few rows behind you at the auction. Like everyone in the room we felt for you as your hopes of buying a coat looked increasingly forlorn. And like everyone, were absolutely delighted when you finally succeeded! I suspect that you are right that others possibly let you win that lot – but your persistence thoroughly deserved it. The lows and high of your struggle made the occasion. I agree with Matt that fur coats are inherently wrong, but I am (perversely perhaps) envious of your purchase and hope that it gives you great joy every time you look at it.

  12. hope | January 5, 2011 at 10:40 am

    engaging story and wouldn’t he have found the switched coats tale amusing, fodder for a book. i admire your spunk and love of life. shame on the naysayers: they missed the point entirely. lighten up, ye rigid critics.

  13. Shelley | January 5, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Writers can always recognize a fellow artist: wears fur coat and Converse to NYC Ballet; visited by raccoon; repents.

    That’s us!

  14. MJ | January 5, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    I so wish I’d been at that auction – a room full of devoted Gorey fans would have been such great people watching (from my world full of otherwise vanilla office worker types)!!

    Think of how warm you’ll be in winter…

  15. Charles Coombs | January 5, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    I am a docent at the Edward Gorey House http://www.edwardgoreyhouse.org
    and it is very gratifying to read of Ms. Devers good fortune and the kindness of the auction participants.
    It is what I would expect from a Gorey friendly crowd. The “dapper gentleman” mentioned may be Part II of this interesting story. Rick Jones, the director/curator of the the museum may be willing to share more details. Sadly, the Bloomsbury Auctions is pausing a bit to regroup according to a story in Jan.5 NY Times arts section.
    Ms. Devers Writers Houses website looks VERY Interesting. It’s fitting that a writer gained possession of another writer’s fur coat. Enjoy!

  16. A. N. | January 6, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    Philip,

    Thank you for your comment. It’s comforting to know that I represented the day accurately. What a great day at the auction we’ll remember! And, believe it or not, I am also against the production of fur coats. But the existence of these Gorey fur coats (interesting in so many ways) tells a story that may actually sway minds about the treatment of animals. They are also an important part of his biography.

  17. Moth | January 16, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    If Edward Gorey wore a fur coat and padded in wearing Converse soft soles he wanted to BE a raccoon at the ballet. He knew his animal welfare allies would never understand, so he put his alter egos in storage, and let his buddies live in the attic. Now you too get to be a raccoon. Good purchase.

  18. Rakesh | January 24, 2011 at 12:15 am

    This story, and that photo of you smiling in your coat at the end, are far too happy and cheery to properly commemorate Gorey’s legacy. Please expand on the blog post to reveal your further adventures with the coat, how your life was subsequently plagued by small disappointments, crushing ennui, and slightly surreal exchanges with spectral hippopotami, after which you finally become senile, burnt the coat in a fit of dysphoria, and then died alone in the snow.

  19. David L | February 17, 2011 at 4:23 am

    A lovely divertion of auctions, provenances and personal passions! Quite unexpected and thoughly enjoyed

  20. Mink Coats | May 1, 2011 at 6:39 pm

    Congrats on your win of the beautiful Edward Gorey fur coat! You look soooo beautiful in it!!!

  21. Lady Fur | December 30, 2011 at 8:49 am

    Very fantastic story.
    Congrat!
    Very beautiful look in your fur coat.
    I’m a fur blogger I’d Like to do a post about it on my blog.
    Can I?
    xoxo Lady Fur

  22. RonG | March 13, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    A.N… I think the story is wonderful. Gorey’s coats were stunning — in spite of the animal rights issues mentioned above. I would have loved to own his great raccoon coat as a tribute, and OK, to cuddle up in on a frigid day.

  23. Ladies fur coats | November 29, 2012 at 2:55 am

    i’m so excited og this fur :)

13 Pingbacks

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Maud Newton, Lauren Cerand, Amy MacKinnon, Leigh Shulman, Collin Kelley and others. Collin Kelley said: RT @parisreview: How I came to own Edward Gorey's fur coat. http://tpr.ly/h9oEBo Great story! [...]

  2. [...] miscellaneous belongings, I did follow it with great interest. Fortunately, the Paris Review has a writeup of the evening, populated by people who “showed the true and devoted look of Gorey [...]

  3. [...] The coats of Edward Gorey Q&A: David Means and his new story collection, The Spot Robert Duncan’s The H.D. Book and the future of American art Charles Portis, author of True Grit The fascinating life of Thomas De Quincey A century later, Tolstoy remains controversial in Russia In praise of parody Saul Bellow’s letters (and whinges) Stieg Larsson’s allure American national character, 160 years after Tocqueville Steve Martin’s purple prose [...]

  4. [...] read a fascinating account of the auctioning off of Edward Gorey’s fur collection over on the Paris Review. It seems that the author — who over the years acquired a whopping 21 fur coats — had a change [...]

  5. [...] met this writer, A.N. Devers, at a party last week, and when she enthused about a piece she wrote recently for the Paris Review about a favorite writer of hers, the late Edward Gorey (in photo above, from Squidoo) and his fur [...]

  6. [...] by eswaized on January 9, 2011 · 1 Comment  Fur “Over the years, Edward Gorey collected 21 fur coats, which he was notorious for wearing with [...]

  7. [...] his life: Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Jane Austen, and fur coats (I’d highly suggest reading A. N. Devers’ Paris Review piece for more on this), and his work extended well beyond books and the iconic [...]

  8. [...] working on her first book, she also runs the web site Writers’ Houses, takes on regular freelance projects, and works as a bookseller at Community Bookstore. Look for her first story coming out next month [...]

  9. […] Taylor high tops to wear to the New York City Ballet. Even though, as A.N. Devers points out in her piece on Gorey’s coats for The Paris Review, he eventually started to feel bad for wearing dead raccoons and left his estate to […]

  10. ohdeerohdear says:

    […] a controversial topic – I’m definitely pro-faux, and in some pretty good company in that, considering some of the guests above. However, I can’t help but appreciate that […]

  11. […] birthday. Of all the posts and reposts I saw in his honor today, my favorite has to be this Paris Review piece from a couple of years ago about a writer who won one of Edward Gorey’s actual fur coats in an […]

  12. […] 4) You love cats? Gorey loved ‘em, too — and all animals, as well. He never had kids, so animals served as his surrogate children. Cats filled up his house throughout his life, and upon his 2000 death he left most of his estate to several animal welfare organizations. The Vault salutes his animal philanthropy through such pieces as his Animal Rescue League Laser Cel and the Cat and Book Pinch Button … though it finds it strange that, for a bit, Gorey wore fur coats. Here’s one such story:  http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2011/01/04/the-coats-of-edward-gorey/ […]

  13. […] “The Coats of Edward Gorey” by A.N. Devers. The story of an artist’s love affair with fur coats, and a writer’s attempt to get one of them for herself. […]

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