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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

 

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The Book of Famous Irish Spy Stories, Daniel O’Keeffe, Irish Pocket Books (1956). Design: M.G. (Michael Gallivan)

The Book of Famous Irish Ghost Stories, Edited by Daniel O’Keeffe, Irish Pocket Books (c. 1956). Design: Michael Gallivan. (Courtesy of Larry Hynes)

Memorable Irish Trials, Kenneth E.L. Deale, Irish Pocket Books (c. 1956). Design: Osborne. (Courtesy of Larry Hynes)

Valentine Vaughan Omnibus, R. Thurston Hopkins, Grafton (1947). Design: unknown

A Case Book of Ghosts, F.W. Gumley & M.P. Mahon, Northern Whig (1971). Design: unknown

Triúr don Chómgargadh, Eoghan Ó Grádaigh, Sáirséal 7 Dill Scéalta Mistéir Uimhir 5 (1968). Design: Úna Ní MhaoilEoin

Ruathar Anall, Eoghan Ó Grádaigh, Sáirséal 7 Dill Scéalta Mistéir Uimhir 3 (1962). Design: Seoirse Mac Aodhagáin

Genre fiction has never really taken hold with Irish publishers. The zealous censorship of publications during the first few decades of the State probably played a role but it is more likely that there just isn’t a big enough population to sustain indigenous mass market paperbacks. The above examples of crime, mystery and horror covers display a charming amateurishness.

The first three are from The Mercier Press’ Irish Pocket Books imprint which operated in the mid-fifties. Michael Gallivan illustrated the first two and the third is by a mysterious ‘Osborne’. I’m afraid I can find no information on either artist. Larry Hynes kindly provided two of the examples which he included in a beautiful poster design celebrating 21 years of Charlie Byrne’s book shop in Galway.

There are 24 years between the next two examples, 1947’s Valentine Vaughan Omnibus and A Case Book of Ghosts from 1971, although the latter cover could easily be from the same period. Unfortunately, I don’t own a copy of the Valentine Vaughan book. The October 2010 issue of Book and Magazine Collector, from which the image is taken, estimates it’s value at £150-£200 sterling! The book is set in London but was published in Dublin by Grafton.

The final two covers are from Sáirséal agus Dill’s Scéalta Mistéir (Mystery Stories) series from the sixties. Úna Ní MhaoilEoin presents a rather naive rendering of a smoking pistol on the fifth book in the run, Triúr don Chómgargadh. I previously posted another of her designs for the series, An Masc. Ní MhaoilEoin wrote and illustrated a number of travel books for Sáirséal agus Dill during the sixties including An Maith Leat Spaigiti? (Do You Like Spaghetti?) (1965) and Turas Go Tuinis (Trip to Tunisia) (1969). According to Manchán Magan the Sunday Dispatch described her books as the most amusingly outspoken books ever to have appeared in the Gaelic language.

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.

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