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


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)


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


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


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”.


Gleann Airbh go Glas Naíon, Seán MacMaoláin, Oifig an tSoláthair (1969). Cover design: unknownImage

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.

Séideán Bruithne (Typhoon), Joseph Conrad, Oifig Díolta Foillseacháin Rialtais (1935). Cover design: unknown

An tOileán Corghruanach (The Coral Island), RM Ballentyne, Oifig An tSoltáthair (1939). Cover design: unknown

An Fáidh Dubh (The Black Prophet), William Carleton, Oifig An tSoltáthair  (1940). Cover design: unknown

Críocha Fiadhaine an Tuaiscirt, Sir William Butler, Oifig An tSoltáthair  (1938). Cover design: unknown

I’ve been very tardy in updating the blog of late, a trend I hope to reverse in future as I’ve built up a back-log of interesting book covers. Unfortunately, it is proving difficult to find information on a lot of the designers and illustrators and that is causing me to hesitate about posting covers. I will try to keep updating at regular intervals regardless of the depth of detail I’ve managed to amass on the artist involved.

Recently, Will Schofield of the excellent 50watts blog (formerly A Journey Round My Skull) featured 14 covers of Irish language books from the 1930s from my collection. The covers include artwork by Austin Molloy, George Altendorf, Olive Cunningham, Michael A Keane, and Victor Penny, all of who studied illustration and layout at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art (now the National College of Art & Design).

Above are four of the featured designs by artists that I have been unable to identify. The bold flat colours really jump off the page and make a great argument for embracing spot colour printing in contemporary book covers as the ubiquitous four colour process (CYMK) can’t come close to reproducing such vivid shades.

I hope to feature Molloy, Altendorf, Cunningham, Keane and Penny in individual posts as each is a significant book jacket artist in the their own right. In the meantime, take a look at some nice examples of their work over at 50watts.

Ceann an Bhóthair, Séamus Ó hAodha, Oifig an tSoláthair (1966). Cover design: uncredited

While I normally like to post a number of similar or related covers together, I’ve been struggling to find anything that I could group with the above design. It’s a beautiful three colour illustration, for a mid-sixties collection of poetry in Irish by Séamus Ó hAodha, but no artist is credited. The textured paper wraps directly onto the hardback boards and feels like a children’s book, an impression that the illustration accentuates. This is a great example of mid-century ‘naïve‘ design that is currently enjoying a revival. The use of the term ‘naïve’ to describe this style is rather inappropriate, while the designs have a childlike quality the artists behind them are invariably well skilled and knowing.

An Bó Bhuachaill Bómánta

November 12, 2009

BoBuacaill480I picked up this booklet a few years ago for the princely sum of €1 – drawn in by the amazing cover rather than the promise of the story within (my Irish is not great). Published in 1960 by Oifig an tSolátair, this is the sort of artwork which makes serious designers cringe but is really a wonderful piece of vernacular design.

The title translates as Eamonn Róg, The Half-Witted Cowboy and we can only imagine the shenanigans our hero gets up to after he hitches his horse outside the GPO and moseys on up O’Connell Street. What a great juxtaposition of iconography – the GPO, Tri-Colour flag, Nelson’s Pillar, the green double decker and the Garda looking on while the sheriff steps straight out of a Western movie and onto the streets of Baile Átha Cliath.

Yet again the cover artist is uncredited but more examples from the same hand – with one credited to a mysterious L.M.S. – can be found in this gallery of fantastic covers from An Gúm/Oifig an tSolátair publications.

%d bloggers like this: