Penguin is having a senior moment. It is casting back for inspiration and relaunching the ‘Specials’ – books that are produced quickly and on ‘hot’ topics. They use the same colours as in the past, and nod to the design standards set down three-quarters of a century ago. Pity they don’t quite bring it off. Compare and contrast a volume from 1938 (from my collection, by a celebrated printer and engraver) with that of 2013. The title page of the former is a masterpiece with the swimming penguins slowly morphing into a flying fish.
In a recent post I wrote of Jan Tschichold and his work at Penguin. While reading up on that piece I came across comments by one of T’s assistant’s at Penguin. Erik Ellegaard Frederiksen writes: This period [1948-1949] was the typographic foundation of the rest of my life. Our desks were at right-angles, so he could see what I was doing. More important for me, I could watch the way he worked…He was totally uncompromising in maintaining design standards…His craftsmanship was great. I remember that Reynolds Stone had engraved the Shakespeare portrait, in a medallion for the Penguin Shakespeare covers. But Tschichold wanted to make the surrounding border himself. He used scraperboard in actual size, and drew the lettering with a pin held in a pen-holder. He did not need to correct anything: the letterspacing, serifs, everything was correct at the first attempt!’
Until this weekend I did not have a copy of a Penguin Shakespeare. Fortunately I was able to pick up a copy at a Brisbane bookstore, printed in 1957 but (like myself of the same birth year) is ageing magnificently. The paper is unblemished and not yellowing like so many ‘cheap’ paperbacks. In fact, it is much as the day it was released. See for yourself the hand-drawn reversed title on the cover and marvel that this was done with ‘a pin held in a pen-holder’. (Click on images to enlarge.)
Source: Jan Tschichold: typographer. Ruari McLean. Lund Humphries (paperback edition, 1990), p 98-99.
The title page is the window into the book. There can be few better examples than this one designed by Jan Tschichold when he was at Penguin (1947-1949). Set in Monotype Bembo capitals throughout it has an elegance and simplicity that speaks for greatness in typographic purity (I particularly enjoy the half-diamond parenthesis marks.) And below is an example of Tschichold’s rigorous eye for detail as shown in layout instructions to the printer. (Taken from Jan Tschichold: typographer . McLean, R. London: Lund Humphries.)
In the early days of Penguin books advertising helped offset costs. Perhaps this is an area overlooked by today’s publishers? There is also something of interest here for the social historian. These examples were all printed during the Second World War. Notice that two of the examples are stapled (The Ragged Trousered… and Totem and Taboo). And what did happen to Greys cigarettes between the first example and the last (which is Freud – 1944 and Conrad 1942). And what is the connection between Eno’s “Fruit Salt” and The Ragged Trousered…? let alone Lotus shoes and Conrad! Notice also the change in the Penguin device between Tressall and Conrad (both 1944 publications).
Less well known for a publication issued in 1946 (in English) titled ‘An Illustrated History of Writing and Lettering’.
I’d forgotten I had this book, because of its slimness it had got ‘lost’ among larger companions and it has a battered cover, which of course adds to its charm.
In the introductory note Tschichold writes: ‘The immense flood of printed matter which characterises the present day has not only diminished our reverence for language. It is also beginning to destroy our living sense for the visible representation of language, for writing and lettering. There are few people who are still sensitive to the positive and negative values in lettering, probably because it is under the eyes whichever way we turn, and everybody has to make use of it, even if it be only on the typewriter’.