A book without a printed cover and title seems incongruous to
us today but until the late nineteenth century few books had the
sorts of covers we are now accustomed to. Traditionally, books
were hand-bound with covers made of wood, leather, silver or
gold or even ivory. Many were decorated but for much of the
books’ history, titles did not appear on the front. The heavy
materials that were used for binding existed only to protect the
expensively printed pages. By the nineteenth century those
materials changed to cloth and paper and for the first time it
became possible to print on covers. Alternatively, paper covers
were wrapped around traditionally bound books, but still mostly
for protection (as the term ‘dust jacket’ suggests), in many cases
to be disregarded at home after purchase. Paperback books,
although they existed in the nineteenth century, only started to
become acceptable and widespread from the 1920’s onwards.
Albatross Books, a short-lived project in Germany pioneered the
first popular paperbacks but it wasn’t until 1935 when Allen Lane
launched Penguin Books in Britain that mass-market paperback
books with distinctive cover designs really caught on. This was
echoed in the United States by Robert de Graaf’s Pocket Books
(1939). Surprisingly perhaps, only in 1960 did the total sale of
paperback books in the US surpass that of hardback books.
With the development and spread of the advertising and publicity
industry in the beginning of the twentieth century, concepts of
packaging and marketing began to be applied to every conceivable
industrial product and service. Publishing was no exception.
Nowadays, publishers fight for our attention and we have long
become accustomed to books being displayed with covers facing
towards us. Paradoxically, the essence of a book is that it cannot be
viewed in one glance, only in sequence, one page at a time. Except
for the cover, which is the only part of a book that can be viewed in
one moment. Considering the number of books that exist, designing
covers is not an easy task. In a competitive market place a cover
must be able to distinguish itself from the others that surround it.
For the designer, the creative challenge is demanding but highly
rewarding; to create a gateway into the world the book represents.
This exhibition displays over 400 cover designs by 56 designers
from 14 countries. As part of, and in the spirit of the Idioms series,
of which this is the sixth exhibition, Gateways is both an exploration
and a celebration of yet another form of graphic design that is part
of our daily lives. In gathering together a selection of memorable,
often ingenious and frequently beautiful contemporary book
covers from around the world, the exhibition aims to display the
range of graphic and conceptual approaches and solutions that
designers utilise in their endeavours to capture the essence of a
book, and by doing so, our attention also. In addition to the work
submitted through an open call, the exhibition features the work
of david pearson and jon gray, two outstanding contemporary
cover designers from the UK, especially invited to participate
and whose work occupies a separate section of the exhibition.
The exhibition also features the work of other especially invited
designers including Ariane Spanier (Ger), Helen Yentus (US), Paul
Sahre (US), Coralie Bickford-smith (UK), Clare Skeats (Uk), Juan
Pablo Cambariere (Arg), Gregg Kulick (US) and Jamie Keenan (UK).
Andrew Howard, curator.
(The text above is an excerpt taken from the beginning of the introductory essay
by Andrew Howard in the book ‘Gateways’. See ‘publications’ in main menu)