Mr. Edgar Ezekiel Gorer

Edgar Gorer Saloon Passenger Lost
[No Picture Provided]
Born Ezekiel Edgar Gorer 1872 Brighton, Sussex, England, United Kingdom
Died 7 May 1915 (age 43) At sea
Age on Lusitania 43
Ticket number 46057
Cabin number B 73
Traveling with - Gerald Letts - Frank Partridge - Martin Van Straaten - and 5 others
Body number Not recovered or not identified
Occupation - Art and antiques dealer - Interior designer
Citizenship British (England)
Residence London, England, United Kingdom
Spouse(s) Rachel Alice Cohen (1902 - 1915, his death)
Edgar Gorer (1872 - 1915), 43, was one of the most successful international dealers in Chinese art of his time. Just before sailing aboard Lusitania’s last voyage, he had initiated a lawsuit against his rival, the Duveen Brothers, to save his professional reputation. Gorer was traveling aboard Lusitania in a part of 9 that included Frank Partridge, Gerald Letts, and Martin Van Straaten. When the ship was torpedoed and sinking, Gorer gave his lifebelt to opera singer Josephine Brandell. Gorer was lost in the disaster. His body was either not recovered or not identified.
  1. A born businessman
  2. Ambitions
  3. Sir William Lever and the Richard Bennett Collection
  4. Battle with Duveen
  5. Lusitania
  6. Postscript
  7. Links of interest

A born businessman

Edgar Gorer was born as Ezekiel Edgar Gorer in 1872 in Brighton, Sussex, England, United Kingdom. The order of his name would change when he entered business. Edgar was the son of Solomon Lewis Gorer (1842 - 1907). The senior Gorer was a one­time tobacconist, silversmith and jeweler. He was born into a Jewish family of Dutch and Russian ancestry. Edgar had an elder brother, Lewis, and sister, Annie. The year previous to Edgar’s birth, Solomon was working as a tobacconist and living on Kensington High Street. By 1886, Solomon had become an "electro plater, water gilder, working silver smith, jeweller and gold and silver refiner", doing business at 113 Edgware Road in London. By 1889 Solomon opened a branch store on 433 The Strand as jewelers who specialized in artificial diamonds. The store on The Strand became the only store by 1895, and then Solomon moved his business again, this time to 59 New Bond Street. Now there were two businesses. Edgar was an ambitious young man with considerable business acumen. Solomon worked as a silversmith while Edgar was a dealer in East Asian art. A few short years later Edgar’s business, now the Indo-China Curio Trading Company, occupied both 58 and 59 New Bond Street. Solomon and Edgar moved to a new location again in 1899 to 170 New Bond Street. The following year, 1900, the two businesses were incorporated as S. Gorer & Son, specializing in interior decoration and dealing in East Asian – mostly Chinese and Japanese – art.


Edgar Gorer married Rachel Alice Cohen (1873 – 1954) in December 1902 at the Hampstead Synagogue. Rachel, known as Rée, was educated at the Slade School of Art as a sculptor and was a close friend of writer and poet Edith Sitwell (1887 ­- 1964). The couple moved to a large house at 45 Netherhall Gardens, South Hampstead. Edgar and Rachel had three sons, Geoffrey, Peter, and Richard. Two of them attended Charterhouse, the third, Westminster, and all of whom went on to the University of Cambridge. Around 1905, business for S. Gorer & Son picked up, and made large purchases from the collection of Louis Huth that May. On the first day, everyone was outbidded by Frank Partridge, but on the second day, Gorer won the bid for powder­blue with famille verte enamel dishes. Solomon retired and passed away on 11 October 1907. In the early 20th Century up to the First World War, the millionaires had a great demand for Chinese porcelain from the Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong periods (1662 – 1795). Into this setting, Edgar Gorer entered the art dealers’ market, emulating his rival, the brothers Joseph and Henry Duveen. When Gorer unveiled his purchase of the Trapnell Collection of Chinese porcelain in 1916, he had come up with the innovation of allowing potential collectors to see his collection without an appointment or a fee. He also provided potential collectors with an illustrated catalogue of the collection. Catalogues were not only useful promotional material, but also became a benchmark for which millionaire collectors would compete with other millionaires for the acquisition of works of art. As his business increased, Gorer continued to promote his business in publications, emphasizing how easy it was for collectors to find what they wanted from him, due to his vast collection. His promotions also mentioned how the company also specialized in cabinet making and interior decorating to complement people’s art collections. Among his satisfied customers, Gorer claimed the governments of Australia, Southern Nigeria, the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) and the British Government itself.

Sir William Lever and the Richard Bennett Collection

Interior decoration was used to court the attention of art collector William Lever (later Sir William, then Lord and Viscount Leverhulme). The strategy succeeded that Lever bought his first piece from Gorer, a blue and white beaker vase from the Sir William Bennett Collection, in 1910. Gorer’s sale to Lever was Gorer’s way into the American market. With the Sir William Bennett Collection, Gorer was able to establish a name for himself with American collectors. Gorer opened a shop in New York City on 500 Fifth Avenue. In May 1911, Gorer invited Lever to view the collection of Richard Bennett. Gorer was able to interest many distinguished people. Lever came to see the collection the same day Queen Mary did. The Queen was clearly interested in Gorer’s merchandise, which may have influenced Lever’s later purchasing decisions. That June, Lever was knighted Sir William Lever, and he purchased the Richard Bennett Collection complete for £275,000, but the collection would be paid for and put on display in installments. Lever and Gorer worked on the minutest details on how the collection would be arranged and displayed in Hulme Hall. The display cases built for the collection, known as the “Gorer cases” are still used at the Lady Lever Art Gallery today. In the terms of the agreement of purchase, Sir William had wished to keep news of the purchase secret until the display gallery was complete. However, news of the purchase had leaked out early. The Duveens found out, and even Queen Mary found out. Sir William tried to deny that he had purchase the collection to the irritation of Gorer, as Gorer thought that news of Sir William’s purchase would be a great promotion for his business. Art dealers James Henry Duveen and Thomas Larkin had speculated that two figures representing the Buddhist deity Vajrapani in the Bennett collection, supposedly from the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644), were in fact modern. Gorer defended the authenticity of the figures. On 20 January 1912, while on a trip to South Africa, Lever informed Gorer that he was no longer interested in the Richard Bennett Collection. On 8 July 1912, Gorer initiated court proceedings against Sir William for the violation of the terms of their agreement. Gorer later withdrew the action on 19 April 1913. As for the custody of the collection, Mr. Justice Darling ruled in Gorer’s favor. Lever requested to retain some of the collection, which Gorer agreed to. Lever would keep 51 items, and Gorer would ship off the rest of the Richard Bennett Collection to the United States. This episode effectively severed the relationship between Gorer and Sir William Lever. Around this time, Gorer and James F. Blacker collaborated on Chinese Porcelain and Hard Stones, a two-volume reference guide on the subject. Much to Gorer’s dismay, the book was panned by R. L. Hobson of the British Museum.

Battle with Duveen

Around 1911, Gorer established a working relationship with New York jeweler Michael Dreicer who was also known as a connoisseur of Chinese jade and porcelain. Drecier was Gorer’s “Sole Agent for the United States and Canada” and through him Gorer exhibited the George R. Davies collection in 1913. Also in 1913, Gorer sold the rest of the Richard Bennett collection in New York. In early 1914, Joseph Joel Duveen condemned a yellow-ground vase that Gorer was about to sell to American collector Henry Clay Frick as a fake. According to Gorer, as a result, Frick refused to buy anything further from Gorer. Duveen’s accusations not only questioned the authenticity of his wares, but also his knowledge as a specialist. J. J. Duveen is reported to have said about Gorer, “we intend stopping Gorer putting these fakes on the market.” Duveen also repeated the allegation that the two Vajrapani figures no more than fifteen years old. Duveen had also declared that a pair of green vases Gorer was selling was modern. Gorer sued Henry Duveen for $75,000 in damages. Both Joseph J. and Henry Duveen claimed that they were not trying to destroy Gorer’s reputation, but merely giving expert as a part of their business. The lawsuit was announced on 7 May 1915. In January 1915, Gorer went to the United States to arrange for an exhibit of the Henry Sampson collection at Dreicer’s. He was returning to England aboard Lusitania, sailing from New York on 1 May 1915.


Edgar Gorer was to return to England aboard Lusitania. He was traveling in a party of nine that included Frank Partridge, Martin Van Straaten, and Gerald Letts. Gorer’s saloon (first class) ticket was 46057, and he stayed in cabin B-73. Fellow passenger Francis Jenkins had stated that Gorer’s cabin was on the Boat Deck. Either Jenkins was mistaken, or Gorer had his cabin assignment changed after he boarded Lusitania. Jenkins states that Gorer was on deck when the German submarine U-20 torpedoed the ship. As Gorer’s cabin was high up in the ship, he was able to run into his cabin and get his lifebelt and wear it before water reached his cabin. On the port side boat deck, he saw opera singer Josephine Brandell, frightened, and in the company of Mabel Crichton, Max Schwarcz, and Francis Jenkins. Gorer gave Brandell his lifebelt and told her, “Be brave.” Gorer then ran off to search for more lifebelts. James Henry Duveen states that Gorer had two lifebelts and gave away both. Lusitania sank in 18 minutes after the torpedo impact. Even though Gorer was reputed to be a strong swimmer, he was lost in the Lusitania disaster. His body was never recovered or identified. Of the party of 9 in which he traveled aboard the ship, only Frank Partridge survived.


Without Gorer, his case against Duveen Brothers collapsed. Gorer’s estate in the United States was valued at $215,760. Gorer had also held “regular stock,” valued at $162,287. In his will, his widow Rachel received an outright payment of £5,000 and income for life from a trust fund of £50,000. The pair of Vajrapani figures, the yellow ground vase, and the pair of green vases accused by Duveen Brothers of being fakes, remain of uncertain authenticity. Edgar’s son Geoffrey Gorer (1905­ - 1985) became a writer and social anthropologist. Peter Alfred Gorer (1907 -­ 1961), became an immunologist and pioneered transplant immunology. Richard Gorer (1913 -­ 1994) became a horticulturalist.

Links of interest

Gorer v Lever at the Lady Lever Art Gallery Peter Alfred Gorer at Wikipedia Richard Gorer at Horthistoria
Contributors Jim Kalafus, USA Dr. Nick Pearce, UK Michael Poirier, USA Judith Tavares References Kalafus, Jim and Michael Poirier (2005) Lest We Forget : Part 1 ET Research. <> Pearce, Nick. Gorer v Lever: Edgar Gorer and William Hesketh Lever. Lady Lever Art Gallery.  Web. 9 July 2011. <>.

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