‘Turn of the Century’

  1. ‘Penguin Clothbound Classics’ by Coralie Bickford-Smith

    May 1, 2013 by Victoria Love

    Penguin, 2008.

    “A book jacket is a kind of poster. It is designed not only to draw attention but also to protect the cover from light, dirt and abrasions until the book is safely in the hands of the buyer . . . The true garment of the book is its cover; the jacket is merely the raincoat.”

    (Tschichold, 1946a cited in Bringhurst and Tschichold, 1991, pp. 161-162)

    Penguin has always been known for their strong, design-led covers. The original horizontal, colour-coded grids devised by founder, Allen Lane were revolutionary. They were then developed by the disciplined philosophies of the eminent designer, Jan Tschichold in the 1940’s. Penguin has never been afraid to push the boundaries and give their designers the space to be experimental. By carving a niche for themselves through their clever use of design, they have developed a brand identity; a feat which many publishing houses would love to repeat.

    Recently, they commissioned Coralie Bickford-Smith to re-design the covers for the ‘Hardback Classic’ list and the result is a ‘modern nostalgia’. They are witty, visually exciting and very tactile. Every year since 2008, she has worked on a selection of classic titles which Penguin have then released at the time; building a library of classic titles that all have a common visual identity.

    The First series of Coralie Bickford-Smith's designed 'Penguin Clothbound Classics'.

    Fig. B – ‘Penguin Clothbound Classics’, series one. (Bickford-Smith, 2008) ( www.cb-smith.com)

    Jan Tschichold, whose influence at Penguin continues, once said “It is a pity that the cover, the true garb of the book, is so frequently neglected in favour of today’s multi-coloured jacket.” (1958, cited in Bringhurst and Tschichold, 1991, p. 10)

    L to R - Great Expectations, Wuthering Heights and Sense & Sensibility.

    Fig. C – Great Expectations, Wuthering Heights and Sense & Sensibility. (Love and Bickford-Smith, 2013) ( www.cb-smith.com)

    The first thing that is noticeable is Bickford-Smith’s decision to do away with the dust jacket, instead chooses to follow Tschichold’s design philosophy. Many mass-market, hardbacks still have their title and author stamped and foiled on the case, which is usually covered in an imitation cloth, like Wibalin, before being wrapped in a separate glossy jacket. In contrast, Bickford-Smith intentionally utilises the cover to engender a feeling of age and nostalgia; “These titles explore my obsession to create beautiful, timeless artefacts for people to enjoy, cherish and pass on. Sumptuous, tactile books that evoke a rich heritage of bookbinding while retaining fresh appeal to modern readers”. (Bickford-Smith, 2013)

    She employs the standard stamping and foiling technique on these ‘Classic’ covers to print a large, illustrative design, pairing differing foil and cloth colours to good effect. The decision to use a limited two-colour palette came about through necessity, cost and the colour limitations of the cloth and foil (Bickford-Smith, n.d. cited in Sherman, 2010), but this has added a twist of modernity and a given the series a distinct, visual identity. Each cover design features a patterned background which is inspired by the story and no two colour pairings are the same, making each title individual within the series. It could be said that she is aware of the collectability of classic titles and their perennial popularity. Therefore, the covers have been designed to look as appealing on their own, as well as part of a whole library, encouraging multiple purchases. The sans-serif typeface remains the same across the series, with the book title and author name placed at opposite ends of the cover and set a small point size. This allows the design to take precedence over the author name and title; a tactic which rarely takes place in mass-market cover design. Given the reputation of these novels, the author’s name and book title do not need to be presented brashly in order to catch the eye; the design is distinctive enough on its own.

    They also draw inspiration from old leather book bindings, which were often tooled and highlighted with gold, echoing the nature of the literature they protect.

    Book of Common Prayer, C of E. London: John Bill & Christopher Barker 1662. Binder: Samuel Mearne.

    Fig. D – Book of Common Prayer, C of E.
    London: John Bill & Christopher Barker 1662.
    Binder: Samuel Mearne. ( smu.edu)

    Using this established iconography makes the books feel older and more valuable, thereby justifying the higher cost of a hardback title to the consumer. There is a definite appetite for items that counter the ‘mass-market production’ feel across society as a whole and I think this has influenced these covers. They play on the nostalgia for the printed word in a time when most content is consumed in digital form. Coralie Bickford-Smith has faithfully followed the design philosophies that have influenced Penguin covers over the years, but she has brought her own interpretation. Her work has given these books a renewed desirability; they are presented as a valued object with respected content, rather than a disposable, mass-market paperback.


  2. ‘Moment in the Sun’ by John Sayles

    May 1, 2013 by Victoria Love

    McSweeney’s Publishing, 2013.

    'Moment in the Sun' by John Sayles. McSweeney's Publishing, 2013

    Fig. E – ‘Moment in the Sun’ by John Sayles.
    McSweeney’s Publishing, 2013
    ( store.mcsweeneys.net)

    If this is not an unabashed attempt to tug on the heritage heartstrings, then I am not sure what is. Set in American in the 1890s, and over 900 pages long, the cover has to be suitably grand to match up to the sheer size of this novel. The level of production that has gone into this book leaps off the cover. The intricate design, heavy foiling and stamping in both matte and metallic colours, the use of faux leather and a hardback binding all work together to make this book feel as though it was manufactured in the time in which it is set.

    Fig. F - Moment in the Sun by John Sayles. McSweeney's Publishing, 2013

    Fig. F – Moment in the Sun by John Sayles.
    McSweeney’s Publishing, 2013
    ( theoxenofthesun.blogspot.co.uk)

    This book definitely stands out in a sea of bland, repetitive titles and with a remarkably low price of £13.99, the production team at McSweeney’s have done exceedingly well to fit their budget. In a market where hardbacks have to work harder to be bought, this cover design excels at delivering value for money. Even though the typography is barely legible and the design could be considered garish, this book will capture anyone’s attention. When considered as an online thumbnail, the legibility is nil, but its brazen intricacy have set it apart and it works!


  3. Decorative Hardback Spines

    May 1, 2013 by Victoria Love

    “The lettering on the spine . . . should restate all essential information of the front panel . . . [the reader] should be able to glean everything worth knowing from looking at the spine . . . The design of the jacket spine should be as attractive as that of the front panel itself.”

    (Tschichold, 1946b cited in Bringhurst and Tschichold, 1991, p. 164)

    Left - 'The Penguin Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection'. Penguin, 2009. Right - 'The Complete Sherlock Holmes', Vintage Classics, 2009. Images taken by myself, 2013.

    Fig. G – Left – ‘The Penguin Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection’. Penguin, 2009.
    Right – ‘The Complete Sherlock Holmes’, Vintage Classics, 2009.
    Images taken by myself, 2013.

    Jan Tschichold’s sentiments are still being followed today it seems. In an effort to imitate older book bindings, I have noticed an increasing trend for designers to return to the traditional spine layout on larger, hardback books. Rather than taking up the space with large lettering, the title text and author information are placed horizontally across the spines.

    'Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm' - Brothers Grimm, 2012. Images taken by myself, 2013.

    Fig. H – ‘Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm’ – Brothers Grimm, 2012.
    Images taken by myself, 2013.

    I have also noticed more highly decorative spines, which goes hand-in-hand with the fashion for producing jacketless, clothbound hardbacks; these usually match the front cover design. As books are becoming valued as desirable objects, more consideration is being given to the appearance of books whilst on a bookshelf.