Wednesday, 12:40am
11 July 2012

Type Tuesday: Naked words

Type-only book covers: austere, functional … or shouting out loud

Once upon a time, book jackets were almost all pure typographic compositions: these were the books one could not judge by their covers, writes Jason Godfrey in ‘Naked words’, Eye 82.The tradition continued into the twentieth century, especially in non-English language publishing – the Parisian house Gallimard still issues its Collection Blanche of classic French literature in a jacket that has barely changed since it was first laid out by the Bruges printer Verbeke in 1911: black author text and red title text in Didot, centred on an ivory stock within a red and black border.

Top: Biblioteca Sansoni’s 1965 edition of Storia dello spirito russo. Massimo Vignelli’s uncompromising black on white sans serif layout runs up the cover from bottom to top, and continues the vertical type on to the spine and back cover.

EYE82 Overview 02 Gollancz Russia

But there have been notable upholders of the tradition in the English-speaking world: Gollancz’s distinctive use of red and black type on yellow stock, from 1928 onwards; the original banded Penguins designed by Edward Young in 1935; Berthold Wolpe’s Faber covers, which defined generations of English novelists, poets and playwrights from the 1940s to the 1970s; Alvin Lustig’s eclectic choices of font for the paperback publisher Meridian in the 1950s.

Read more on the Eye website, and in Eye no. 82 vol. 21.

Above and below: Stanley Morison became a director of Gollancz in 1928 and advised it on design for the next ten years. His legacy of yellow (Morgan’s Yellow Radiant) paper covers with black, red and magenta type continued for decades. (The copies shown here date from the early to mid-1930s.) Morison’s large headline fonts and pull quotes were radical at the time, especially when used with the then new Gill sans typeface.

EYE82 Overview 02m Nazi Germany

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 and single issues. Eye 82 is out now, and you can browse a visual sampler at Eye before You Buy. Eye 83 is now being bound.