Do Penguins flock? Not sure. Probably. Although certainly not the paperback kind; they seem a little thin on the ground nowadays. It's taken me about 6 months to pull together this handful…Well, I say "handful", but I mean "handful" as in a slightly freaky, Anne Boleynesque six-fingered handful. (No offence, any sextedigiters out there!).
A while back I mentioned the Penguin Collectors' Society and suggested that if you're interested in Penguin Books then it's well worth joining. Their journal, The Penguin Collector, is published twice a year, June and December. This is great because it's just infrequently enough for me to forget it's coming so it's always a nice surprise when it drops through the door, the December edition especially because it arrives just before the Christmas holiday so I get plenty of time to scrutinise it.
The latest edition is packed full of interesting stuff: It kicks off with a Fletcher obituary (he designed both Penguin and Pelican covers); then there's an article about collecting ephemera by Jo Lunt (who, incidentally, is a great source of Penguin first editions); a damning review of Richard Doubleday's Jan Tschichold, Designer, by Phil Baines (welcome because that's one I might otherwise have bought); an excellent article on Penguin's Designer Classics by Steve Hare ; a short article on the Penguin Classics 60th Anniversary Campaign with contributions from Al MacCuish and Darren Bailes from Mother.
But the best bit for me, and the reason I'm rambling on about it here, is the article by Graham Moss on Elizabeth Friedlander who, I now know, designed the pattern for this cover as well as this one from months back. Freidlander was forced to leave Germany, then Italy and came to Britain in 1939, where she forged documents for British Intelligence (what a great job!). In '48 Tschichold introduced Penguin to Freidlander partly because she'd designed patterned papers for Curwen Press.
It seems that she was rarely credited; I've certainly never come across her name before - there's no mention of her in these books. I could and will guess at others she might have designed; she apparently did lots of Penguin Music scores too although I don't know if she did these (I'd guess she did the Mendelssohn).
Freidlander's covers are clearly quite different from those of Russ*; his are quirky and fun, her's are "traditional" but always beautiful.
I'm suddenly conscious that I've still got a pile of these to show. Just because it shows a certain humour I suspect, but don't know for sure, that the Manley Hopkins cover is by Stephen Russ. Pretty confident the Dryden isn't but it's a striking cover anyway.
Don't think I've ever mentioned it before but if you're at all interested in Penguin Books, particularly from a design or historical point of view then it would pay to sign up to the brilliant Penguin Collector's Society. It doesn't cost much and you get their periodical full of fascinating and often intimate details of Penguin history, access to the Society's other, more irregular but equally revealling publications and even opportunities to attend occasional events.
"I'm not worthy" springs to mind: A little while ago I mentioned that Adam Russ, grandson of Stephen, had got in touch and had very kindly offered me scans of the unbound covers he has framed on his wall. Well here they are. I'm very excited and grateful to Adam.
Poetry of the Thirties, Adam's favourite, is particularly interesting and is a bit of a departure from the more usual* repetitive patterns.
Click on each cover to see them in much more detail.
This is one of my favourite Stephen Russ covers; it's not just a nice pattern it's an idea. I think that's what, often, makes his covers stand out from others in the series, even those patterns for Comic and Curious Verse and More Comic and Curious Verse are "idea-based", i.e. they reflect the genre rather than are purely decorative like the Matthew Arnold book.
Special "thanks for the support" to Lena Corwin for including a link to Ace Jet 170 on her blog, I've had lots of reffered hits since.
Earlier in the week I was very excited to get a comment from Stephen Russ's grandson Adam who has very kindly emailed me a scan of one of the many unbound copies that he has. I'll post what he's sent next week.