Edward Gorey Wore the Weirdest, Wackiest Jewels
The famous author could often be found waltzing about New York in skull jewelry and furs.
In November of 2018, the most aptly named biography to ever exist was published: Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey.
Written by Mark Dery, it covers with great detail the macabre and bizarre author Edward Gorey. Many readers will know Gorey’s most famous work, The Gashlycrumb Tinies: Published in 1963, it tells the tales of small children meeting their theatrical deaths, written to the tune of an alphabet book.
“Eccentric” is a good word to latch onto when it comes to Gorey, a man who not only wrote about the alliterative deaths of small children in alphabetical order, but also pranced around New York City in extravagant fur coats, and bedecked every finger with huge silver rings. Even more mysterious: Gorey was, in actuality, a pretty well-adjusted man.
Born in 1925, Gorey was a precocious child prodigy with a flair for writing and the arts, and he attended the prestigious Francis Parker School in the Chicago area. After graduating, he served briefly in World War II, and then enrolled in Harvard in 1946, studying French literature. How dramatic.
His professional life lead him to New York City, working first at publishing giant Doubleday, where he illustrated covers for many books. By the mid-1960s, he was freelancing on illustrating books as well as creating his own. His hatch-marked style of illustration is instantly recognizable and iconic today.
Also in the 1960s, Gorey also became enamoured with the New York City Ballet, and it was even reported that he made sure to attend every single performance of every single ballet choreographed by George Balanchine. It was around this time that press photos depict Gorey in his luscious furs and extravagant silver jewelry.
Gorey’s jewels of choice were anything but ordinary, especially for a mid-century man. There were chunky silver rings and bracelets of every sort and skulls that he wore as pendants, mostly purchased from different antique shops in New York City. Gorey did inherit some more conventional jewelry from his mother and his aunt, as well.
Rick Jones, the director of the Edward Gorey House, spoke to The Daily Beast about Gorey’s collection of jewelry: “Edward’s collection of jewelry was vast—he had hundreds of rings, bracelets and neck pendants. Most of the pendants were not meant to be worn as jewelry but were found objects that he strung and wore around his neck. He seemed to have a different favorite piece every day.”
Kevin McDermott wrote a lot about Gorey’s fascination with jewelry in his book Elephant House; or, The Home of Edward Gorey: "Edward wore jewelry long before it was a common occurrence to see men wearing earrings, finger rings, and neck pendants. African, Tibetan, and Indian jewelry were of particular interest to him. Some of his rings were so heavy and awkward that one had to wonder how he could function with such obstacles…” Indeed, he was hardly seen without them encircling every finger and wrist, and it gives one that much more admiration for the exacting precision of his illustration style.
McDermott also wrote that “some of the rings were not rings at all, they were antique gold weights that jewelers once used to measure various ounces of gold…. Inspired by the 1961 French film Cleo from 5 to 7, whose heroine hung her necklaces on the wall, Edward dealt with the problem of his ever-growing collection of jewelry by hanging his rings and pendant on wooden racks that had once held spools of thread."
In 1979, Gorey purchased an old sea captain’s home that was over 200 years old on Cape Cod, a place he had frequently visited in summer since childhood. The home, Elephant House, later became his hidden sanctuary, an escape from New York City, where he withdrew and continued to work on artwork and theatrical projects. After his death in 2000, the home was turned into the Edward Gorey House Museum, and operates annually from April through December.
So, what happened to the jewelry after his death? Many pieces were given to friends and family, but much of his collection was kept by the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust, much of which is now on display at the Edward Gorey House Museum in the Yarmouth Port Common, Cape Cod, Massachusetts.