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Dracula, Bram Stoker, translated into Irish by Seán Ó Cuirrín, Oifig Díolta Foillseacháin Rialtais, 1933. Design: AóM (Austin Molloy). Courtesy of John Moore/Little Museum of Dublin

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Sídh-Scéilíní don aos óg (Fairy Stories for the Younger Generation), Pádraig Ó Bróithe, Oifig An tSoláthair, 1939 (2nd ed. 1946). Design: AóM (Austin Molloy)

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Lough Derg, Alice Curtayne, Burns, Oates & Washbourne, 1944. Design: AóM (Austin Molloy)

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Various covers designed by AóM (Austin Molloy) for Oifig An tSoláthair/Oifig Díolta Foillseacháin Rialtais from: Boston College University Libraries: Free State Art: Judging Ireland by its Book Covers

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Left: Cogadh na Reann (War of the Worlds), H.G. Wells, Oifig Diolta Foilseachain Rialtais, 1934. Design: AóM (Austin Molloy). Right: Cú na mBaskerville (Hound of the Baskervilles), Arthur Conan Doyle, Oifig Diolta Foilseachain Rialtais, 1934. Design: V.P. (Victor Penney)

I am delighted to share this little-seen cover for the 1933 Irish language edition of Bram Stocker’s Dracula. The deceptively simple design is by Austin Molloy (1886–1961) who signed his work AóM (Austin Ó Maolaoid). The three-colour design employs two shades of green and a yellow, a colour choice which we wouldn’t associate with the gothic or horror genres today yet is quite effective here. This fascinating chronology of Dracula covers shows that Molloy’s work is among the earliest illustrated covers and that the iconography we now associate with the book was in its infancy when he tackled the commission. There is no sign of any visual influence from Nosferatu (1922) or the first official film adaptation (1931) in Molloy’s design.

Austin Molloy was born in Castleknock, Dublin in 1886. He attended the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art between 1909 and 1916 where he befriended fellow student Harry Clarke. The two made a sketching trip together to the Aran Islands in 1909. As a student, Molloy contributed cartoons to Arthur Griffith’s Sinn Féin newspaper for 1 shilling and 6 pence per week. His cartoon work also appeared early on in Charles E. Kelly’s Dublin Opinion which began publication in 1922. In 1923 he took over teaching Harry Clarke’s illustration and layout course at the Metropolitan School of Art. Between them they taught a generation of talented designers who made their mark in the ‘thirties and ‘forties. These included George Altendorf, Olive Cunningham, Richard King, Victor Penney and John Henry.

Molloy was a prolific book cover artist and above is a small selection of his work. His main client was An Gúm (The Scheme) which was a government initiative started in 1925 to publish books in Irish. Under the Oifig Díolta Foillseacháin Rialtais (Government Publications Office) and Oifig An tSoláthair (Stationary Office) imprints, An Gúm published numerous titles. These included translations of works by English, American and European writers as well as original Irish books. It is interesting to see Molloy employ the same art deco-style lettering on the covers of Ben Hur, Iain Áluinn and Dracula.

Molloy also designed the cover for the Irish translation of another popular classic – H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds (Cogadh na Reann) while Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles (Cú na mBaskerville) is graced by cover art from Victor Penney, one of Molloy’s more talented students from the Metropolitan School.

It is great to see Dracula’s Dublin-born creator being celebrated in the form of the Bram Stoker Festival. As part of this year’s festival the Irish language first edition of Dracula (above), along with other key foreign first editions, will be on view at the Little Museum of Dublin from the 25th of October until the 25th of November in an exhibit titled “Dracula: Life after Death”.

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A Keeper of Swans, Patrick Purcell, Talbot Press, 1944. Design: uncredited

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The Dawn of All, R.H. Benson, Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1945. Design: uncredited

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This Is My Story, Louis Budenz, Browne & Nolan, n.d. (1948). Design: uncredited

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I Remember Karrigeen, Neil Kevin, Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1944. Design: uncredited

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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:

http://culturefilepod.tumblr.com/post/44781256034/go-ahead-and-judge-a-book-by-its-cover-with-the

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