May 19, 2013
A Keeper of Swans, Patrick Purcell, Talbot Press, 1944. Design: uncredited
The Dawn of All, R.H. Benson, Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1945. Design: uncredited
This Is My Story, Louis Budenz, Browne & Nolan, n.d. (1948). Design: uncredited
I Remember Karrigeen, Neil Kevin, Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1944. Design: uncredited
I Remember Karrigeen, (front flap), Neil Kevin, Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1944.
The above book covers from 1940s Ireland all eschew illustration in favour of typographic treatments. This was more likely to have been a cost-cutting measure than a design choice.
These covers are all from commercial publishers – Talbot Press, Browne & Nolan and Burns Oates & Washbourne – whose sights were firmly on the bottom line. Three of the four titles are essentially religious texts masquerading as secular reading and would have been considered safe bets sales-wise in the newly free Catholic Ireland.
A Keeper of Swans, the only non-religious work in the bunch doesn’t sound any more inviting. Patrick Kavanagh reviewed it in the Irish Times, 18 November 1944: “A Keeper of Swans is a grand piece of sentimentality from the Ould Sod, which should get still better notices in the USA then even Hanrahan’s Daughter.” The cover is a generic template which the Talbot Press used for numerous books during the period.
The output and production standards of these commercial publishers were generally considered poor by the arts and literary set. Liam O’Flaherty dissuaded Peadar O’Donnell from publishing his second book, Islanders, through the Talbot Press, denouncing them as “outrageously vulgar people”.
The final image is from the inside front flap of the I Remember Karrigeen jacket and refers to the rationing of paper which affected book production during the Emergency (a quaint Irish euphemism for the rather less quaint Second World War.) Judging by the book covers of the period, illustration might well have been rationed too as it was surely in short supply.
Culture File RTÉ Lyric FM
This blog was featured in a short piece for Culture File on RTÉ Lyric FM:
March 15, 2013
“Don’t Swear Like That!”, Rev. Daniel A. Lord S.J., Catholic Truth Society of Ireland (1950). Cover design: unknown
My Mind Wanders, Rev. John P. Delaney S.J., Catholic Truth Society of Ireland (1961). Cover design: unknown
Who Made Man?, Rev. J.C. Houpert S.J., Catholic Truth Society of Ireland (1952). Cover design: unknown. From Lux Occulta
How to Make an Act of Perfect Contrition, Rev. L. Dowling S.J., Catholic Truth Society of Ireland (1948). Cover design: unknown. From Lux Occulta
Modesty and Modernity, Catholic Truth Society of Ireland (1951). Cover design: unknown. From Lux Occulta
I’ve been aware of the Catholic Truth Society of Ireland booklet covers for some time but was reluctant to post examples as I wasn’t able to establish whether they were designed in Ireland or elsewhere. Many of the texts were originally published in the USA and further afield – Who Made Man? was first published by the Catholic Truth Society of India! Given the various origins of the material I wondered if the covers were merely reprints or adaptations of the original covers and therefore not truly Irish cover designs.
I picked up a few more examples at the recent Trinity booksale and my curiosity was piqued again. Since my last efforts at research a new resource has come online – Lux Occulta – Catholic Pamphlets. Having looked at the Irish booklets on the site, I have established that all of the covers with an artwork credit are by Irish artists, including the ever prolific Karl Uhlemann, Alfred E. Kerr, G. A. (George Altendorf), P. J. Quinn and J. Mulhern (possibly artist John Mulhern). Since none of the signed pieces are by non-Irish illustrators, I feel it is reasonable to believe that the artwork for the booklet covers was prepared in Ireland regardless of whether the contents were being published for the first time or reprints of previous texts.
The Catholic Truth Society of Ireland (later Veritas) was founded in 1899. Its aim is best summed up by this wording that appeared in many of the pamphlets:
This booklet has a Mission – to make God known and loved. Maybe you can place it in the hands of somebody who needs it. Don’t neglect to do so if you can. If you can’t, leave it behind you on a park seat, in a ‘bus, in a theatre, and Providence will guide it aright.
It seems from this that urbanites, in danger from the evils of modern living, were the target audience. The covers above give a good idea of the styles thought best to appeal to the city dweller in need of Truth. There is quite a nod to advertising and showcard design of the era with a hint of modern/deco styling although the crude printing mitigates against producing the desired slick effect. While these publications now appear quaint and often hilarious it is worth remembering that they formed part of an insidious culture which held sway in Ireland through much of the 20th century.
The dates quoted above aren’t, as far as I can discern, the original publication dates but rather the date of that particular printing. Many of the designs are in styles which would have been anachronistic by the time of the stated print date. While My Mind Wanders is dated 1961 another booklet in the series titled My Mind STILL Wanders has a date of 1945 which suggests that the original publication date of the former must have been earlier than 1945.
Reading Pictures at the RHA
After all of that, if ye still seek the Truth, I will be speaking about vintage Irish bookcover design this Saturday, 16th March at 3pm in the RHA. The talk is part of Reading Pictures – A celebration of Irish children’s books and illustration, organised by Irish Design Shop in collaboration with the RHA and Children’s Books Ireland. Admission is free and all are welcome.
January 27, 2013
An Buama Deiridh, Deasún Breatnach, FNT (1962). Cover design: Máirtín DeFuireastail
Seal Thall, Seal Abhus, Deasún Breatnach, Oifig An tSoltáthair (1973). Cover design: Máirtín DeFuireastail
An tÁr sa Mhainistir, S.E. Ó Cearbhaill, Oifig An tSoltáthair (1972). Cover design: Máirtín DeFuireastail
An tÁr sa Mhainistir (back cover), S.E. Ó Cearbhaill, Oifig An tSoltáthair (1972). Cover design: Máirtín DeFuireastail
Máirtín DeFuireastail’s cover design for An Buama Deiridh (The Last Bomb) is a wonderful piece of comic book pop art. On first look it may appear to be yet another tired Lichtenstein appropriation yet, amazingly, DeFuireastail created this in 1962, a full year before Lichtenstein painted Whaam! The cover crackles with Cold War nuclear paranoia – an imaginary metropolis under threat from some diabolical danger.
The comic book influence runs through the other examples of Máirtín DeFuireastail’s art. There is a lovely crispness to his line work. The streetscape in an orange band on the back cover of An tÁr sa Mhainistir is particularly pleasing. It reminds me of the illustrations on the cover of Saoirse Gan Só which I wrote about previously. I have a strong feeling that it is also the work of DeFuireastail but it is no credit on the book.
DeFuireastail produced illustrations and cover designs for books from at least 1956 until sometime in the mid-seventies, other than that I have no biographical details for this talented designer.
I will be speaking about typography in Irish book covers at the next Typography Ireland seminar this Friday 1st of February at 2.30pm. Paul Freeney will also be speaking about the work of his father, sign painter, Kevin Freeney. The seminar takes place in the GRADCAM seminar room, John’s Lane West, Dublin 8. The building is a former primary school and the GRADCAM seminar room is on the top floor.
August 28, 2012
Gleann Airbh go Glas Naíon, Seán MacMaoláin, Oifig an tSoláthair (1969). Cover design: unknown
Ceol na nGiolcach, Pádhraic Óg Ó Conaire, Oifig an tSoláthair (1968, 1976 reprint). Cover design: W.G. Spencer
Réamhchonraitheoirí, Máirín ní Mhuiríosa, Clódhanna Teo. (1968). Cover design: unknown
Vintage Irish Book Covers is delighted to be taking part in Marathon Irish, a celebration of Irish Culture, which is taking place in London until the 15th of September. I will be packing as many Irish books with beautiful jacket and cover artwork and bringing them to the Dialogue Culture Space in Vyner Street, East London for a pop-up exhibition from Thursday 6 to Saturday 8 September.
I’ve been looking for an excuse to post the three covers above for some time. All three are from the late sixties, employ two shades of green in varying degrees of abstraction and are printed paper cases. But other than that, I’m afraid, I know little about them except that their simplicity really appeals to me.
W.G. Spencer, who designed the abstracted reeds on a river bank for the cover of Ceol na nGiolcach, may be the architect of the same name who contributed sketches of old Dublin buildings to The Irish Builder from 1963-4.
December 14, 2011
Meas na Filíochta, Odhrán Ó Duáin OFM, FNT, (1968). Cover design: Karl Uhlemann
Sladmhargadh, Donach de Róiste, FNT, (1968). Cover design: Karl Uhlemann
Ó Rabharta Go Mallmhuir, Seán ‘ac Fhionnlaoich, FNT, (1975). Cover design: Karl Uhlemann
Fir Chlaímh, Seán Ó Mulláin, FNT, (1976). Cover design: Karl Uhlemann
Slán Leis an gComhluadar, Mícheál Ó hOdhráin, FNT, (1961). Cover design: Karl Uhlemann
Feoil an Gheimhridh, Colm Ó Baoill, FNT, (1980). Cover design: Karl Uhlemann
Is Glas na Cnoic, Seán ‘ac Fhionnlaoich, FNT, (1977). Cover design: Karl Uhlemann
Foilseacháin Náisiúnta Teoranta (FNT) (National Publications Limited) published Irish language books until 1988 and, despite the very formal moniker, it wasn’t a State run publisher but in fact a commercial enterprise (although it did receive some subsidies over the years). The company was incorporated in Westport in 1947 when it bought the printing works of the Mayo News. It continued to publish that paper but it’s main focus was the Irish language newspaper Inniu which had been founded by Ciarán Ó Nualláin and Proinsias Mac an Bheatha’s Glúin na Bua (a breakway from Conradh na Gaeilge) in 1943. Ciarán Ó Nualláin was Flann O’Brien’ brother and, more importantly from our point of view, also the brother of Mícheál Ó Nualláin whose design work we have featured previously.
FNT’s book publishing activity started as a sideline to the newspaper business but the number of titles grew steadily over the years. Karl Uhlemann was FNT’s main cover artist for a considerable portion of its existence. Above are examples of his work for them over a twenty year period from 1961 to 1980. It is interesting to see how his skills developed with time, particularly when comparing his treatment of the Traveller’s caravans in the covers from 1961, Slán Leis an gComhluadar, and 1975, Fir Chlaímh.
My favourites are Meas na Filíochta, with its Japanese feel, and the pop art sci-fi explosion of Sladmhargadh. You can see more of Mr Uhlemann’s work and what little I’ve been able to ascertain of his biography in these two earlier posts.
October 19, 2011
In Monavalla, Joseph Brady, Gill & Son, (1963). Cover design: Fergus O’Ryan
Legends of Killarney, Donal O’Cahill, published by author, (n.d. 8th ed.). Cover design: Fergus O’Ryan
Fergus O’Ryan RHA ANCA (1911-1989) is better known today as a painter but he spent most of his working life as ‘a professional designer and commercial artist’ as a 1949 catalogue described him.
He worked with McEvoy’s Advertising Services in Dublin in the early 1940s and in 1943 he was with the Rank Organisation working at the Theatre Royal. He became art director and remained there until it closed down in 1962, designing backdrops and scenery as well as cinema posters. From there he went on to teach lithography at the National College of Art until his retirement in 1976.
His paintings, though well executed, are quite anodyne and hark back to Impressionism. What little I’ve seen of his commercial and print work is much more interesting. I would quite happily have a print of the In Monavalla cover on my wall. The character on the cover looks like the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit although I’m not sure if that was the intention.
63 pieces of O’Ryan’s commercial work sold as part of a lot of ’60s and ’70s Irish Sweepstakes advertising art in 2005.
October 8, 2011
Freemantle Mission, Seán Ó Lúing, Anvil Books, (1965). Cover design: Joe O’Byrne
The mystery of the Casement ship, Captain Karl Spindler, Anvil Books, (1965). Cover design: Joe O’Byrne
The Clanking of Chains, Brinsley MacNamara, Anvil Books, (1965). Cover design: Joe O’Byrne
Above are three covers for Anvil Books designed by Joe O’Byrne in 1965. The post-nominal initials MIAPI after his credit for the Fremantle cover were the vital clue to who he might be. A member of the Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland, O’Byrne was working for O’Kennedy Brindley when he designed these covers, on the side, for Anvil. He later went on to found his own advertising agency, O’Byrne Associates, which gave Brennan’s Bread their distinctive yellow and red wrappers and the slogan “Today’s Bread Today”.
Anvil Books specialised in Irish history with a heavy leaning to Republican themes. The Clanking of Chains stands out for being a novel. O’Byrnes’ design echos MacNamara’s most infamous work, Valley of the Squinting Windows, placing a figure in a window as the only illustration in a predominately typographic treatment. To my mind, the Fremantle Mission is the most striking cover of the three. The orange of the sun really jumps out from the rust background.