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The not-ghastly tale of Edward Gorey's fur coat

January 4, 2011 | 12:42 pm

Why is this woman smiling? Because against all odds, she won one of Edward Gorey's fur coats at a December auction.

Edward Gorey, of course, is the author and artist who created "The Gashlycrumb Tinies," "The Unstrung Harp," "The Doubtful Guest" and dozens of other gleefully macabre works for adults and children. Gorey's line drawing illustrations -- described variously as Victorian, Edwardian and Gothic -- often included images of quiet calamity and bats and people wearing fur coats.

Gorey collected fur coats, 21 of them; he even designed some. He was said to have worn them to performances of the New York City Ballet, with distinctly unmatching tennis shoes. In December, an auction of Gorey-ana was held in New York to benefit several nonprofits. The fur coats were up for sale.

Author A.N. Devers, founder of the site Writers Houses, was there. She writes about her experience as a hopeful buyer on the blog of the Paris Review.

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 fans [sic]. 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.

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.

And someone did; many of the coats went for much more than the estimates, with one selling for $4,800. But Devers, surprisingly managed to make a winning bid, and she explains how.

Luckily for her, PETA wasn't waiting outside.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: A.N. Devers in her Edward Gorey fur coat. Credit: Lauren Cerand