1940s Typographic covers
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.
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