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:
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.
September 20, 2011
Rethinking the Church, Edited by F.V. Johannes, Logos, (1970). Cover design: Des Fitzgerald
Morals, Law & Authority, Edited by J.P. Mackey, Logos, (1969). Cover design: Des Fitzgerald
Celibacy and Virginity, Auer/Egenter/O’Connor, Logos, (1968). Cover design: Des Fitzgerald
The Council Reconsidered, Louis McRedmond, Logos, (1966). Cover design: Des Fitzgerald
Look Towards the East, John Power, Logos, (1969). Cover design: Des Fitzgerald
Set My Exiles Free, John Power, Logos, (1969). Cover design: Des Fitzgerald
New Ways in Theology, J. Sperna Weiland, Logos, (1968). Cover design: Des Fitzgerald
Logos was an imprint of Gill & Macmillan which published books on theology, philosophy and sociology. Launched in the years following the Second Vatican Council, the cover art reflects the Church’s unlikely embracing of Modernism, particularly in architecture, during this period.
With such obtuse titles as Morals, Law & Authority and Celibacy and Virginity the designer, Des Fitzgerald, has managed to do an admirable job. I can find no biographical information on Mr Fitzgerald but I can reveal that he is the (uncredited) designer behind one of the most well known Irish book covers of the last half century – Soundings – the school poetry anthology edited by Augustine Martin.
I had hoped to include the Soundings cover with this post but haven’t been able to source a clean copy as it was invariably defaced by sullen students. The reissued version sports a cover by the very talented Graham Thew which plays on that very fact, adding the updated information as scrawls on the original cover.
June 20, 2011
The Book of Famous Irish Spy Stories, Daniel O’Keeffe, Irish Pocket Books (1956). Design: M.G. (Michael Gallivan)
The Book of Famous Irish Ghost Stories, Edited by Daniel O’Keeffe, Irish Pocket Books (c. 1956). Design: Michael Gallivan. (Courtesy of Larry Hynes)
Memorable Irish Trials, Kenneth E.L. Deale, Irish Pocket Books (c. 1956). Design: Osborne. (Courtesy of Larry Hynes)
Valentine Vaughan Omnibus, R. Thurston Hopkins, Grafton (1947). Design: unknown
A Case Book of Ghosts, F.W. Gumley & M.P. Mahon, Northern Whig (1971). Design: unknown
Triúr don Chómgargadh, Eoghan Ó Grádaigh, Sáirséal 7 Dill Scéalta Mistéir Uimhir 5 (1968). Design: Úna Ní MhaoilEoin
Ruathar Anall, Eoghan Ó Grádaigh, Sáirséal 7 Dill Scéalta Mistéir Uimhir 3 (1962). Design: Seoirse Mac Aodhagáin
Genre fiction has never really taken hold with Irish publishers. The zealous censorship of publications during the first few decades of the State probably played a role but it is more likely that there just isn’t a big enough population to sustain indigenous mass market paperbacks. The above examples of crime, mystery and horror covers display a charming amateurishness.
The first three are from The Mercier Press’ Irish Pocket Books imprint which operated in the mid-fifties. Michael Gallivan illustrated the first two and the third is by a mysterious ‘Osborne’. I’m afraid I can find no information on either artist. Larry Hynes kindly provided two of the examples which he included in a beautiful poster design celebrating 21 years of Charlie Byrne’s book shop in Galway.
There are 24 years between the next two examples, 1947′s Valentine Vaughan Omnibus and A Case Book of Ghosts from 1971, although the latter cover could easily be from the same period. Unfortunately, I don’t own a copy of the Valentine Vaughan book. The October 2010 issue of Book and Magazine Collector, from which the image is taken, estimates it’s value at £150-£200 sterling! The book is set in London but was published in Dublin by Grafton.
The final two covers are from Sáirséal agus Dill’s Scéalta Mistéir (Mystery Stories) series from the sixties. Úna Ní MhaoilEoin presents a rather naive rendering of a smoking pistol on the fifth book in the run, Triúr don Chómgargadh. I previously posted another of her designs for the series, An Masc. Ní MhaoilEoin wrote and illustrated a number of travel books for Sáirséal agus Dill during the sixties including An Maith Leat Spaigiti? (Do You Like Spaghetti?) (1965) and Turas Go Tuinis (Trip to Tunisia) (1969). According to Manchán Magan the Sunday Dispatch described her books as the most amusingly outspoken books ever to have appeared in the Gaelic language.
January 6, 2011
I’m not sure if the Seán Ó Brádaigh who designed these covers is the same Seán Ó Brádaigh who was Sinn Fein’s Director of Publicity and the editor of An Phoblacht. I have a feeling that it is but I would be very interested to have it confirmed.
Seosamh Ó Duibhginn was one of the founders of An Clóchamhar which began publishing in 1958. Dónall MacAmhlaigh’s Dialann Deoraí from 1960 is easily the imprint’s best known book It is the definitive account of life as an Irish navvy in 1950′s England. It was published in English as An Irish Navvy, Diary of an Exile.
You can see another example of Ó Brádaigh’s work here.
November 23, 2010
B’Fhiú an Braon Fola (Front), Séamas Ó Maoileóin, Sáirséal 7 Dill (1958). Cover design: Anne Yeats
B’Fhiú an Braon Fola (Back), Séamas Ó Maoileóin, Sáirséal 7 Dill (1958). Cover design: Anne Yeats
An tSraith ar Lár, Máirtín Ó Cadhain, Sáirséal 7 Dill (1967). Cover design: Anne Yeats
An tSraith Dhá Tógáil, Máirtín Ó Cadhain, Sáirséal 7 Dill (1970). Cover design: Anne Yeats
An tSraith Tógtha, Máirtín Ó Cadhain, Sáirséal 7 Dill (1977). Cover design: Anne Yeats
Codladh an Ghaiscigh, Máire Mhac an tSaoi, Sáirséal 7 Dill (1973). Cover design: Anne Yeats
Anne Yeats (1919-2001) was the daughter of poet WB Yeats and a niece of painter Jack B Yeats. She studied at the Royal Hibernian Academy Schools before working at the Abbey Theatre as chief stage designer. From the early 1940s on she concentrated on painting but over the years she created many covers for Irish language publishers Sáirséal agus Dill.
Much less retrained by commercial considerations than other contemporary publishers, Sáirséal agus Dill’s cover designers were free to explore styles which didn’t have to fit with markets or genres. Most of their designers were primarily artists who dabbled in book design and illustration as an extra income stream. The work that they created has a timeless quality that is lacking from a lot of covers where commercial considerations are foremost.
These examples of Yeats’ designs cover a twenty year period from 1958. It would be hard to guess the year that any of them was designed just from looking at the cover. Particularly strong is the illustration on B’Fhiú an Braon Fola which wraps around to the back. The book is an account of Séamas Ó Maoileóin’s involvement in the Rising, War of Independence and the Civil War. The title translates as ‘The drop of blood was worth it’ but Yeats’ gory depiction is far less glorious.
Less obviously figurative but equally striking is the cover of Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s An tSraith ar Lár. The grey background is in fact a metallic silver ink which really sets off the rough pen and ink illustration.
Cor Klaasen Exhibition
Thank you to everyone who came along and supported the Cor Klaasen exhibition. The reaction was great and it was a pleasure to be able to present such a strong body of work to a wider audience. I would very much like to thank the Klaasen family for being so open and enthusiastic about sharing Cor’s work. You can view photos of the exhibition and opening here. I hope to add much more of his work to the website, www.corklaasen.com over the coming weeks.
October 15, 2010
Poetry Leaving Certificate Anthology, WJ Steele, Fallons (1969). Cover design: Cor Klaasen
Introducing English, Augustine Martin, Gill & Macmillan (1970). Cover design: Cor Klaasen
Léamh Só, Proinsias MacSuibhne, Fallons (1972). Cover design: Cor Klaasen
Thank you to everyone who came along to the Culture Night exhibition in Mary’s Abbey. It was a very enjoyable night in a wonderful historic setting. I was delighted to be asked by Ruth Kelly to take part in the event and it was great to share the evening with Donny Keane, whose ‘Life thru my Mobile Phone’ proved to be a personal and witty view of Dublin and beyond, and my brother Barry McCormack who finished the proceedings perfectly with song.
Since then I have been working through Cor Klaasen’s amazing archive of work and selecting pieces for the upcoming exhibition. Above are two examples of his abstract geometric work and also a beautiful two colour overlay illustration for the cover of Léamh Só. The image on the poster for the exhibition is adapted from an illustration on the cover of another book from the same period – When the Saints…
The opening is on Wednesday 3 November from 6-8pm and all are welcome. Brian Lalor, printmaker and editor of The Encyclopedia of Ireland will open the exhibition.
The exhibition will run from Thurs 4 – Wed 10 November inclusive and will be open daily from 11–5.
Cor Klaasen: Jackets, Covers & Sleeves
Venue: Adifferentkettleoffishaltogether, 18 Ormond Quay Upper
Times: Daily 11 – 5pm. Thurs 4 – Wed 10 November inclusive
Opening: Wednesday 3 November, 2010, 6 – 8 pm. Guest Speaker: Brian Lalor
Sponsors: The Netherlands Embassy, Gill & Macmillan and Hudson Killeen.