young_lady_says_no480The Young Lady says “NO”!, Rev. Wm. P. O’Keeffe C.M., Catholic Truth Society of Ireland (1946). Cover design: John Henry. Courtesy of Veritas/Vintage Values.

what_to_do_date-480

What to do on a Date?, Rev. Daniel A. Lord S.J., Catholic Truth Society of Ireland (1958). Cover design: Martin Collins. Courtesy of Veritas/Vintage Values.

fashionable_sin-480

Fashionable Sin, Rev. Daniel A. Lord S.J., Catholic Truth Society of Ireland (1957). Cover design: Martin Collins. Courtesy of Veritas/Vintage Values.

divorce_a_disease480

Divorce is a Disease, Rev. Martin J. Scott S.J., Catholic Truth Society of Ireland (1944). Cover design: John Henry. Courtesy of Veritas/Vintage Values.

rosary_without_distractions480

Suggestions om saying the Rosary Without Distractions, Sister M. Emmanuel O.S.B., Catholic Truth Society of Ireland (1944). Cover design: John Henry. Courtesy of Veritas/Vintage Values.

Fortune_telling-480

A Guide to Fortune Telling, Rev. Daniel A. Lord S.J., Catholic Truth Society of Ireland (1943). Cover design: Sean Best. Courtesy of Veritas/Vintage Values.

Earlier this year I wrote about the cover art of Catholic Truth Society of Ireland pamphlets. At the time I had very little in the way of facts to go on and the piece was essentially guess work. Shortly after writing the post I was contacted by Lir Mac Cárthaigh, Art Director at Veritas, who informed me that they hold a full archive of the pamphlet covers and have details of the cover artists behind each of the designs! He told me that my conjecture about the artwork was correct and that they were in fact all designed by Irish designers. Also, the pamphlets were reprinted many times over the years so the reprint dates were often many years later than the original artwork was completed. Lir understood the importance of the archive and had been working for some time to bring it back to public view. He invited me to meet with him and view the collection, which I was delighted to do.

The archive consists of a couple of large filing cabinets which are jam-packed with dusty envelopes, each containing an original CTS pamphlet and a card detailing the cover artist, fee paid, print-run and subsequent reprints. The collection is so vast that it was only possible to view a small random sampling of the covers. The earlier covers, from before the 1920s, have generic typographic covers but designs from the twenties on incorporate illustration and as you move through the years the artwork gets more and more bright and vibrant.

While the archive contains work by artists who are reasonably well known, including George Monks, Karl Uhlemann, Alfred Monahan and numerous examples by George Altendorf, I was most excited by the work of a number of complete unknowns – John Henry, Martin Collins and Sean Best. These three artists worked in a style heavily influenced by advertising spot illustration and showcard art. Their work displays a confidence and skill which really makes it sparkle. For a long time this sort of design was dismissed as low-brow or purely vernacular but in more recent times there has been a growing appreciation of the craft involved in making this work.

Unfortunately, we have scant details of these three artists. John Henry was a student at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in the early 1920s and would have studied along side George Altendorf under Austin Molloy. Seán Best designed the cover of the official Eucharistic Congress programme (1932). A Martin Collins held a solo exhibition of paintings in Lad Lane Gallery in 1978 and was also working as a ‘visualiser’ with the Peter Owens advertising agency in the early 1980s but it’s impossible to say if either or both are the same artist who created these pamphlet covers.

Since our meeting, Lir Mac Cárthaigh has been busy sifting through the archive and assembling a book and exhibition which showcase some of the most interesting examples from the collection. The exhibition, entitled Vintage Values, runs at the National Print Museum from the 4th until the 24th November and the Vintage Values book, which I had the pleasure of writing the introduction for, will be launched on the 19th of November at the Print Museum. A number of poster prints and postcards of the designs are available from the Vintage Values website.

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CatholicTruthSocietyofIreland-Swear-1950-480

“Don’t Swear Like That!”, Rev. Daniel A. Lord S.J., Catholic Truth Society of Ireland (1950). Cover design: unknown

CatholicTruth-MindWanders-1961-480

My Mind Wanders, Rev. John P. Delaney S.J., Catholic Truth Society of Ireland (1961). Cover design: unknown

CatholicTruth-WhoMadeMan-1952-480

Who Made Man?, Rev. J.C. Houpert S.J., Catholic Truth Society of Ireland (1952). Cover design: unknown. From Lux Occulta

CatholicTruth-Perfect1948-480

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

CatholicTruth-modesty1938-1951-480

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.

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