book design. page design. title pages. dust jackets. binding. every book i buy, new or old, has these elements. however very few are designed better than this book, the tables of the law by thomas mann designed by paul rand. with all the things written about rand, it’s amazing that none dissects or highlights his ability. i mean really examines it critically. i can look at his career and tell you some of the high points (like this book) and certain low points (his logo for amex) and see inspirational design. the book jacket, binding and book typography were all done by rand in 1945, almost 70 years ago. shit. it remains fresh, except maybe the jacket color, which is a bit drab. but read the book and the color makes sense. i’ve bought countless books for their design, many in german, dutch, czech, japanese…but this one from knopf is translated from german for the american market. thankfully, i can read it and that helps informs my understanding of the design. the tables of the law is about the early life of moses and rand’s design evokes restraint, refinement, sophistication and reflection. what i love most about this book is the grid. the lovely grid. rand once said in class, “a grid is like a musical instrument. it’s only as good as who’s playing it.” well, the grid for this book is a classic mirrored symmetrical design, with generous proportions. it never bores me to examine it. the typographical hierarchy is rich and detailed.
as a design student, i visited the steinhour press in vermont. it was a wonderful place where they printed amazing books, all by letterpress. the type was set on monotype machines and i remember seeing the galleys of type. one specific thing i learned on that visit was line count. i always wondered how a book, such as ‘the table of the law,’ maintained such a perfect grid. seems like a silly question now, but at the time i had no idea. i had never designed a book—brochures, yes, but not a novel. as you know, orphans are rather unsightly and what happens when you let a line carry over to the next page and leave a horrible orphan or widow? the manager overseeing the page layout said that they simply varied the line count if necessary. ‘the tables of the law’ is set to 37 lines deep, but to avoid poor line breaks several pages cheat, not with the line depth count but in the number of lines between chapters. instead of six, there are times when just five lines are used. what i love most is the page numbers as they relate to the chapter numbers. the relationships are amazing. size, scale and placement move the eye around the page. it makes me laugh to express such enthusiasm for typographical details. one of my favorite books on book design is by Jost Hochuli <http://www.typotheque.com/authors/jost_hochuli>, an amazing book designer of whom I have long been a fan and whose work I also collect. there are many other memorable design elements about ‘the tables of the law.’ the binding is simple and rich with a lush green cloth and gold foil stamping on the cover and spine. what is under the dust jacket is also wonderful: the religious iconography and the spine all covered in gold, which is often rubbed away. i heard about that ms. knopf complained about the production costs of the books designed by rand. it seems they were expensive to produce. i can totally see that. this is 1945 after all. i have no idea as to the truth of this story, but i do believe there was great care given to these designs. i had rand sign all the copies of the books he designed that i had collected, but i never discussed them with him. he was always surprised when i brought him something that he had designed. “where did you fine that? still damn good.” we would spar about whose tschichold collection was better. his was, of course. you can’t compete with personally inscribed editions. back to ‘the tables of the law.’ another wonderful aspect of this book is the title page. one of my favorites. a tour de force of asymmetrical typography. don’t forget the year is 1945 and check out the vertical type of the date. also keep in mind this is metal type. this book is printed with letterpress—metal type. which means the title page would have be laid out by hand. no polymer plates then. when i first started collecting in the ‘80s, i checked out many of the printing houses where these books were made. i had dreams of visiting their archives and discovering correspondence from designers like rand, with marked-up galleys, instructions made and corrections reviewed. Alas, by the time i checked they were long gone. maybe just a little is saved here.
martha graham. merle armitage. an alliance i love. not sure how many of you out there know mr. armitage’s work. he made his way, his own way. the linked article fills you in and gives you a nice overview. i discovered his work after buying an annual of aiga’s fifty best books. these are amazing references for any book collector. (the current fifty best books exhibition is up now.) i sought out early copies of these books and then tried from the illustration of each book to determine its value and sought out the ones that looked interesting to me. i discovered many book designers i had never heard of. i think there should be a show of fifty books from fifty years. the best of the best. that’s one jury i would love to be on.
as you can see in this book on martha graham, mr. armitage has a flair for the dramatic. i would never say his designs were subtle; expressive would be more like it. this is my favorite of the books he designed. it was the first book on graham and he does it right. i have not read it, though, so i can’t opine on the prose. in the article i reference, he says he often wrote the books just so he could design them. his books are not expensive to collect. i don’t know many people or designer friends who collect his works or have heard of him, for that matter, but i’m happy i started collecting his book designs twenty years ago. maybe you’ll enjoy discovering his work.
over the next five days, i will share five different books designed by ladislav sutnar. think ‘orange.’ i love orange. i don’t wear a lot of it but i do have an orange lacoste shirt, an orange hermès hat and one pair of neon orange nike air rifts. oddly, that’s it. however, i do own a great number of orange items. many are in the form of books designed by sutnar. take off the dust jacket and you find a wonderful world of subtlety, drama, creativity and originality. remember, these books were designed in the 1930s.
this collection began with the discovery of a box labeled ‘sutnar’ at ‘the art of the book’ room at the sterling library at yale. the sterling library is vast. heaven, actually, but aren’t all libraries? ‘the art of the book’ houses many amazing things, and i sometimes think i was the first person in years to look through this archival box. there was no order, no organization, no cataloging and no shortage of wonderful things to examine. i would bet that, 20 years later, no one else has looked at that box. where do i find these books? living in the states makes it difficult. there are a few dealers who sell the czech avant garde, and i acquired most of mine from one particular dealer who now specializes in cookbooks. recently there was an ebay auction with many wonderful examples of sutnar designs and i didn’t win a single book, much to my disappointment. so many i had never seen. hopefully, these will be fresh to you.
everyone is pretty familiar with this particular issue of a.d. with a cover designed by paul rand. here is my copy. it’s not particularly hard to find but i was happy when i found mine, pre-ebay. i see it on there from time to time. one dealer is currently selling it, though bundled with two other well known issues. i’m going to share a secret related to mr. rand and this book. it might not be a secret and but even the master missed it.
in book collecting, the term ‘first edition’ is extremely important. there are reviewer copies that go out before a book’s release, but these are not considered first editions. not all books are issued as first editions, but those that have great value for collectors. in the world of ‘modern firsts,’ a first edition faulkner with a dust jacket is worth considerably more than a second edition. there can be special editions, signed editions… to me, it seems to go on and on, but that is the fun of it, too. i know of one first edition photo book which actually says ‘second edition’ because the publisher wanted to imply that the first edition had sold out. ah, the fine art of marketing. when visiting the new york antiquarian book fair at the park avenue armory, there are dealers devoted to selling modern firsts. a category that i happily do not collect, which doesn’t mean that i don’t collect first editions. i try to collect all of tschichold’s books in all their various published editions. one particular book that has escaped my collection is the danish edition of ‘typographische gestaltung.’ (one of my favorite title pages of all time, though the referenced image is from the german edition.) what does this have to do with this particular edition of a.d.?
well, this cover is a key— though certainly not the only key—to the first edition of rand’s book, ‘a designer’s art,’ published in 1985. the words ‘first edition’ do not appear in the front matter, but the numbers 2 through 10 do. the number 1 is missing, which indicates the first printing, and this is enough to establish the book as a first edition. why does this matter? to some people (very few, i think), having the first edition of a rand book, or any book for that matter, means very little. however to some it adds a monetary value over later editions. if you search abe books, you will find a wide variety of prices for the first edition. i have seen a designer’s art first edition, unsigned, for 600 dollars. there are signed, unsigned. dedicated vs just a signature. an associated copy. endless, really. another way to tell if it’s a first edition is on page 168 of rand’s design of a.d. magazine.
if you look closely, you will notice something missing. the title of the publication is a.d. those two letters appear on the back, cut up. but the ‘u’ is missing. it seems the u fell off somewhere along the way in production. mr. rand kept his mechanicals, his paste-ups. remember those. i recall bringing this to mr rand’s attention, but i don’t actually remember his reaction. whether he knew already or or not, was i the first to bring this to his attention? i do know that in subsequent editions it has been corrected. i’m not sure if he found the letter or had to remake it. so the secret’s out. or maybe it wasn’t a secret at all.
maybe you’ve read this book, maybe not. i read it in the summer of 1988 when i was working at wolf olins in london. i was between my first and second years of grad school and as a second-year student one of my classes was to be with paul rand. since starting my blog, i have often been asked to share my memories and experiences as a student, especially those with mr. rand. before i started my second year, i decided that i should prepare for his class. the rumor (which turned out not to be true), was that he was a tough taskmaster. therefore, i decided to read through the footnotes from his books, a designer’s art and thoughts on design. this meant hunting down those books referenced and reading them before my classes started. i wanted to be sure that when he mentioned one of these books i could say, ‘yes, i’ ve read that.’ mr. rand’s class was pretty straightforward. we were given a text from le corbusier and ozenfant, sur la plastique, and told to design a booklet around it. a problem for the grid, pacing, typography, book binding. the research was not particularly difficult per se, but i do remember sitting at my desk and thinking about where i should start. all the second-year students were housed on the second floor of 212 york street. the first-years in the basement. (surely on purpose?) to enter 212, you had to pass wolf’s head, one of yale’s secret societies. i was endlessly fascinated by these amazing mausoleum-like structures, but what was particular about this secret society was the building. it was designed by bertram goodhue, the designer of cheltham typeface. cool, right? anyway, back to class. my experience there was rather uneventful, i thought i was judged as much by what i knew as by what i was doing, and was pretty much left alone. i think mr. rand’s criticism and toughness were reserved for those with less design experience and less understanding of the problem at hand. at that time, at yale, there were many students who came into the program with little to no knowledge of design. much to my surprise. throughout the semester, a few of us would make our way to weston, ct, to visit mr. rand at his home for a review of our assignment. often he would share the latest books he was reading, and would mention that we should be reading them too. on one occasion, i went to visit him alone and i was allowed to poke through his library. i pulled out one book. it was nothing special, but of course i recognized the spine. i was thrilled to see that mr. rand had marked and annotated throughout the book. it was rich with his thoughts and comments. i returned it to the shelf feeling as though i had just passed through his brain. i have always loved the idea of marginalia, and recently enjoyed reading a thoroughly academic book, ‘margins and marginalia’ by evelyn tribble. so the years went by, and i would make visit after visit to mr. rand. unfortunately they became less frequent, but whenever i called on him i was always welcomed. after he died i tried to visit mrs. rand when i could, and when she mentioned that she was going to sell his library, i couldn’t image it being dispersed. i asked mrs. rand if i could buy some of his books. she mentioned that yale’s sterling library was coming to make a selection for yale students to browse through at the art of the book room at the sterling, and once they had made their selections i could come see what was left. the first book i selected was the very one i had looked at years before. mr. rand’s copy of ‘art as experience.’ it’s one of my most treasured items, and i could never give it up. enjoy. i know i have.