Better than the real thing?
Facsimiles give scholars and students the chance to enjoy, understand and literally get to grips with the physical nature of printed design classics.
To truly appreciate – and savour – historic design objects, one must understand nuances of form and structure. This derives from scrutiny. Yet many of these relics from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are so fragile that turning their pages can be risky, and librarians and curators are justifiably reluctant to let even the most serious scholar finger them. Yet hands-on contact with artefacts such as these can influence how a design scholar views a body of work or inspire a graphic designer in his craft.
But there is an alternative. Duplications of originals can be almost as good as the real thing. And don’t let any stuffy bibliophile tell you otherwise. Facsimiles are more practical research tools for historians and connoisseurs. Indeed, many limited-edition facsimiles (and they are almost always published in limited quantities) are often as valuable as those precious originals.
Few facsimiles are as elaborate as the first volume of Arts & Architecture (Taschen Books, 2008). A long-time admirer of California Modern, publisher Benedikt Taschen had coveted the complete run of this influential wellspring for a small but dynamic group of modern designers in California after the Second World War. In its pages, edited by John D. Entenza, with covers designed by the likes of Saul Bass, Gyorgy Kepes, Alvin Lustig and Herbert Matter, the celebrated ‘Case Study House Program’ was launched and the progressive California style was born.
Zenit and DaDa
Ranko Horetzky, a designer in Zagreb, Croatia, is the publisher of the boxed collection of Zenit (originally edited by Ljubomir Micić, 1895-1971). It took Horetzky 2000 working hours and more than two years to prepare the edition. Many of the originals were in such bad condition that he had to scan each page separately, to be able to make a complete ‘reconstruction’ – ‘My previous experience with printing posters and graphics in silkscreen helped me a lot,’ he told me.
The best facsimiles are produced by master printers, who capture every nuanced detail of the original, from the coverage of ink to the paper texture. A photographic reproduction records a particular version of the document – imperfections and all – but a facsimile preserves the essence of the original, as though it just came off the press.
First published in Eye no. 73 vol. 19.
Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions, back issues and single copies of the latest issue.