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


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.


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.


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, Ailbhe Ó Monacháin (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.



The Bell, Vol. XVI No. 3, December 1950. Design: uncredited

icarus-No17-1955-PaulineBewickIcarus, Vol. 5 No. 17, November 1955. Design: Pauline Bewick

KilkennyMagazine-Issue2-Autunm1960-ChristopherFayThe Kilkenny Magazine, No. 2, Autumn 1960. Design: Christopher Fay

Dolmen-PoetryIreland-1962-Issue1-unknownPoetry Ireland, No. 1, Autumn 1962. Design: uncredited (Ruth Brandt)

Threshold-No23-Summer1970-ColinMiddletonThreshold, No. 23, Summer 1970. Design: Colin Middleton

Literary magazines held a special place in the cultural life of mid-century Ireland. Although print-runs were low, their impact was disproportionate and they managed to reflect a more varied and complex Ireland then the mainstream media. The five examples above all follow a set format – octavo in size, each has a mono interior with a 2-colour cover on heavy uncoated card.

The Bell is the best know of the magazines here. The first issue appeared in 1940 under the editorship of Seán Ó Faoláin. It managed to continue publication throughout the ’40s, challenging the then dominant, and restrictive, notion of Irishness. The above cover from 1950 bears more then a passing resemblance to the classic Penguin covers of the period. The magazine ceased publication in 1954.

Icarus is a literary magazine published by Trinity College, Dublin. It was founded in 1950 and I believe it is still extant despite a very low profile. Iain Sinclair, Hackney historian and psycho-geographer, served as editor in the mid-sixties when he attended TCD. The arresting cover featured here is an early commercial commission by Pauline Bewick. Some simple but very effective spot illustrations in scraper-board, also by Bewick, appear in the interior. The cover art has generally moved with the times but hasn’t always been as successful as this example. Tim Booth of Dr Strangely Strange fame delivered a comic book inspired cover in 1965 and Tom Doorley, food critic, supplied a decent design for the Trinity Term 1982 issue.

The Kilkenny Magazine lasted 18 issues from 1960 to 1970. Issue no. 2, Autumn 1960 (above) includes a linocut by Christopher Fay on the cover. I can find no further artistic endeavors by the elusive Fay. The Spring 1963 issue included the first publication of Seamus Heaney’s Mid-Term Break.

Poetry Ireland has appeared in a number of different formats since it’s initial publication under founding editor David Marcus in 1948. This original iteration lasted 19 issues until 1952. For a few more years it ran as a supplement to Irish Writing, petering out in 1955. In 1962 it was resurrected as a magazine in its own right under the editorship of John Jordan. This new version lasted 8 issues until 1968 and was printed and published by the Dolmen Press.

The cover above is the first one under Dolmen’s watchful eye and is a triumph of earthy elegance, combining the unsophisticated beauty of letterpress with refined and understated layout and typography. The “fabulous bird”, as John Jordan referred to it, is the work of Ruth Brandt (1936-89). Brandt was the daughter of Muriel Brandt and married fellow artist Michael Kane in 1961. She provided illustrations and lettering for a number of Dolmen books but I can’t tell if she is responsible for the wonderfully blocky and not quite uncial lettering of the Poetry Ireland masthead.

Threshold was a publication of Belfast’s Lyric Players Theater. The first issue emerged in 1957 with Mary O’Malley as editor and it continued irregularly until 1990. The example shown is the 1970 “Northern Crisis” issue and sports striking cover art by Colin Middleton (1910-83).

It is probably no surprise that literary magazines looked to artists rather than designers for their cover art. There is certainly a discernible aesthetic sensibility running through these disparate publications.


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


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


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


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


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.

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.

Dialann Deoraí, Dónall MacAmhlaigh, An Clóchomhar (Third Edition, 1970). Cover design: Seán Ó Brádaigh

An Dá Thaobh, Eoghan Ó Ceallaigh, An Clóchomhar (1968). Cover design: Seán Ó Brádaigh

Dónall Óg, Seosamh Ó Duibhginn, An Clóchomhar (1960). Cover design: Seán Ó Brádaigh

Ag Scaoileadh Sceoil, Seosamh Ó Duibhginn, An Clóchomhar (1962). Cover illustration: Ristreard Ó Cearbhaill. Cover design: Seán Ó Brádaigh

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.

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, over the coming weeks.

After a couple of days of  fevered activity, the Cor Klaasen exhibition is almost ready for this evening’s opening (Wed 3rd 6-8pm). It’s been a real struggle to select which covers to show as there is so much quality work to choose from. The show will be open from 11am – 5pm every day up to and including Wed 10th November. Please join us at the opening or drop by during the week and enjoy Cor’s wonderful work.

The following evening (Thurs 4th) I’ll be speaking about Cor’s work at Offshoot 4 in the Sugar Club.

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, Inspired Working and Hudson Killeen.

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.

Karl Uhlemann II

August 8, 2010

Faoi Rún Go hÉirinn, Seán Ó Ciardhuáin, FNT, 1972. Design: Karl Uhlemann

Sléibhte Mhaigh Eo, Mícheál Ó hOdhráin, FNT, 1964. Design: Karl Uhlemann

Crumbling Castle, Patricia Lavelle, Clonmore & Reynolds, 1949. Design: Karl Uhlemann

Old Celtic Romances, P.W. Joyce, Talbot Press, 1963. Design: Karl Uhlemann

An Doras Grianlasta, Lorcán Ó Treasaigh, FNT, 1983. Design: Karl Uhlemann

Since I last posted on the work of Karl Uhlemann I’ve managed to dig up some more nice examples of his work but more importantly I’m now able to fill in some biographical detail. Theo Snoddy’s very informative Dictionary of Irish Artists: 20th Century tells us that Karl Uhlemann Jnr was born in 1912. His father Karl Snr was a landscape painter born near Leipzig. I still can’t say for definite if he was born in Ireland but we do know that his father was resident in Dublin from 1915 when he first exhibited at the R.H.A. Karl Snr obviously had an influence on his son’s choice of career and the creative streak in the family continued with Karl Jnr’s son Rai. I will feature some of Rai’s work in a future post.

These examples of Karl Uhlemann’s work are from dates between the late forties and the early eighties – almost 35 years. Crumbling Castle is the earliest example and although it is uncredited, the KU in the lower left hand side and the similarity to other covers by him leave us in no doubt.

My favourite of these covers is Faoi Rún Go hÉirinn. The moonlit illustration, which raps around to the back cover, is beautifully rendered and doesn’t suffer a bit from the rough print job. An Doras Grianlasta is the least successful. The typography feels like an after thought and there has been no attempt to tie it in with the illustration. It is a good example of how design quality suffered as a result of technological ‘advances’ in the late seventies and into the eighties.

Sixties Fishing Guides

July 28, 2010

Ireland Sea Angling Guide, The Inland Fisheries Trust/Bord Fáilte Éireann(1962). Cover design: uncredited

Ireland Salmon and Sea Trout Fishing, The Inland Fisheries Trust/Bord Fáilte Éireann(1962). Cover design: uncredited

Ireland Coarse Fishing, The Inland Fisheries Trust/Bord Fáilte Éireann (n.d.). Cover design: uncredited

These three fishing guides from the early sixties are aimed at international visitors rather than the home market. The illustrations of the fish have been handled quite differently on each yet they still have the feel of a set, helped by the single colour limitation and the repetition of ‘Ireland’ in Perpetua bold italics.

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