Jan Tschichold at Penguin Books: A Resurgence of Classical Book Design

  • Update:2013-09-27
  • Richard B. Doubleday Translated by Wang Yun

The Penguin Composition Rules
Once at Penguin, Tschichold began work by circulating written comments and criticisms about existing Penguin examples to the editorial staff. He then developed the “Penguin Composition Rules,” the standardized formats and typographic specifications which addressed text composition, indenting, punctuation marks, spelling, capitals, small capitals, italics, folios, figures, references, footnotes, make-up, and the printing of plays and poetry. The Penguin composition rules, which ran to four pages, (Figure 8A, 8B, 8C, 8D) unified the design of all series while bringing harmony and economy to its publishing program.
Underlying the Penguin Composition Rules was the implementation of a grid system. (Figure 9A, 9B) The grids were unalterable instructions that set the foundation for the trimmed page area, width and height of each book, visual cover size, type area on cover and spine, position and style of the spine label and lettering on labels for all the Penguin series. The grid gave Tschichold the flexibility to create appropriate scale relationships between type and dimensions of each book, to initiate a aximum area and correct imposition for any King Penguin plate, (Figure 10) and to designate the most appropriate typeface to accurately reflect the content of the book.
After establishing these design standards, Tschichold had the responsibility of explaining it to the large group of Penguin Books compositors and printers, many of whom were less than enthusiastic for the intensified level of scrutiny and involvement in their work. Tschichold’s presence was most clearly felt in the publisher’s composing rooms, which he visited often to make arduous revisions to typographical arrangements and layouts. Tschichold stated, “Every day I had to wade through miles of corrections (often ten books daily). I had a rubber stamp made: ‘Equalize letter-spaces according to their visual value.’ It was totally ignored; the hand compositors continued to space out the capitals on title-pages (where optical spacing is essential) with spaces of equal thickness.” [3] Despite initial resistance, Tschichold persisted, and after about a year he began to see improvements. He could then turn his full energies toward the actual design of the books.

The Penguin Series
One of Tschichold’s first design tasks was to refine the Penguin series covers. The elegant golden section proportions 4 3/8”x 7 1/8” (111mm x 181mm), color-coding by genre, sans serif typographic covers, and bird logo were based on the German Albatross Books series, which set the standard for early paperback book design. (Figure 11) Penguin publisher Allen Lane recognized Albatross’s effectiveness in using design to establish a brand identity in the marketplace, and he wanted Penguin to do the same. Although Tschichold was prevented by his publisher to completely redesign the Penguin series due to brand loyalty, he did what he could to modify the existing “Penguin look”—the distinguishing orange horizontal stripes, developed by the imprint’s first production editor, Edward Young (1913-2003). (Figure 12, 13)
In 1948, Tschichold’s first revision included the introduction of different weights of Monotype Gill Sans for hierarchy and emphasis, meticulous letter and word spacing for both the title and author’s name. (Figure 14) Tschichold commented on his design strategy: “I could only bring the earlier ugly proportions into a happier relationship.” [4] For the second revision, Tschichold redesigned the Penguin logo at the bottom center of the front jacket. He also reduced the point size of the typography and introduced a fourpoint line between the title and author’s name. What he did retain was Penguin’s characteristic color-coding by genre—orange for fiction, green for crime, blue for biography, burgundy for travel, yellow for miscellaneous and gray for current affairs—and avoidance of pictorial covers. Tschichold’s final revision of the Penguin cover in 1949 was to modify the Penguin Books trademark. (Figure 15, 16) He improved the letter spacing and reduced its overall size for improved proportion. He decreased the line between the title and author’s name to two points and also introduced two hairline border rules above and below the title and author’s name. These final revisions firmly established a standardized format, which unified the Penguin series.

The King Penguin Series
The King Penguin series, which covered art, science, leisure and world history, was one of the first series to be printed in color and in hardcover by Penguin. Tschichold decided that the overall redesign of the King Penguins would emulate the prominent and much admired Insel-Verlag (Insel-Bücherei) picture books from Germany. (Figure 17) Each book numbered approximately 64 pages, with an equal distribution of text and images. The appearance was classic and elegant. They were smaller in bulk at a size of 4 3/4”x 7 1/16” (119mm x 179mm), and sold at twice the price of paperback Penguin books. For King Penguins, Tschichold used unconventional classic typefaces, for example, Centaur, Pastonchi, Poliphilus, Scotch Roman, Lutetia and Walbaum. (Figure 18)
Of particular note in the King Penguin series is A Book of Scripts by Alfred Fairbank (1895-1982). (Figure 19) Tschichold adapted the cover design from a page in Arte Subtilissima intitulada Orthographia Pratica, a classic work on calligraphy and engraving by the 16th century Spanish writing master, Juan de Yclar (1515-90). Tschichold was concerned with the qual ity of reproductions, particularly when it involved calligraphy and exquisite lettering. For A Book of Scripts, Tschichold utilized his early training as a calligrapher by drawing the roman capitals by hand on the front and back cover, carefully restoring them to their original shapes. The National Book League recognized this title as one of the best-designed books of 1949.

The Penguin Classics
In January 1946, Penguin Classics were launched as a new series of translations of Greek, French and Latin classics, (Figure 20) including such titles as Ivan Turgenev: On the Eve edited by G.C. Gardiner, Honoré de Balzac: Old Goriot translated by M.A. Crawford and Fydor Dostoyevsky: Crime and Punishment translated by David Magarshack. Homer’s The Odyssey translated by E.V. Rieu was the first volume of this new library of translations. These titles appealed to the many serious readers looking for foreign literature translated into English.
Within seven months of joining Penguin, Tschichold redesigned the following volumes within the Penguin Classics series: Sophocles: The Theban Plays edited by E.F. Watling, Voltaire: Candide edited by John Butt, Tacitus: On Britain and Germany edited by H. Mattingly, Dante: The Divine Comedy I edited by Dorothy L. Sayers, Xenophon: The Persian Expedition edited by Rex Warner and Virgil: The Pastoral Poems edited by E.V. Rieu. The series appealed to the serious readers who had little to no knowledge of foreign literature.
Tschichold had inherited the former series cover design, whose elements for example, title plate and roundel were disordered and did not compliment one another. For the redesign of the Penguin Classics series, Tschichold reintroduces the common monochromatic frame appearing in rich purple or burnt sienna. Just within the frame, Tschichold adds a thick geometric line, a subtle detail that allows the cover to resonate and gives the series a classic and appealing personality. The illustrations, engravings and roundels appearing on the covers and throughout the interior page spreads were commissioned by prominent English designers and artists such as Elizabeth Friedlander (1903-84) and Berthold Wolpe (1905-89). The roundels were created for many book covers within the series as iconic representations of the characters in the story and to add character and finishing touch to the design. Tschichold employed the classic and assertive typographic features of Monotype Perpetua for many of the covers within the Penguin Classics. For the chapter headings and body text, Tschichold would mix various weights of Monotype Bembo and Monotype Centaur Titling. The results were a stunning, classical and unique quality that was heightened by the exquisite Perpetua setting and elegant roundel insignia.
One notable masterpiece from the series of Penguin Classics is Tschichold’s book design for The Transformations of Lucius, otherwise known as The Golden Ass, written by Lucius Apuleius, translated by the poet and novelist Robert Graves. (Figure 21) First published as a softback in 1950, Penguin issued their own hardback version, a 298-page, 2,000 limited deluxe edition the following year. The detailing included a cream colored cloth with gilted stamped lettering on a vellum spine. The tips, also referred to as French corners, were finished by hand to reinforce the spine and binding to avoid damage while handling. For the lettering on the spine, The Golden Ass, Tschichold creates a hand drawn cursive lettering in a decorative and graceful script with vitality and harmony. Two rules of different weights has been added for visual support within the spine. The book was protected with a tan dustwrapper and fitted inside the original two-color card slipcase. Tschichold set the two-color card slipcase in all caps, Monotype Lutetia in three distinctive groupings of typography. What makes this design unique is the harmony and extreme clarity achieved by Tschichold’s exquisitely centered arrangements and agreeable groupings and elegant relationships of typography.
These three groupings are comprised of fourteen lines of type, centrally placed and similar point size throughout. However, the point size of the title, The Golden Ass, being the most important, is increased to a larger point and carefully letterspaced to draw attention. Also, the description of the books contents, comprised of five lines of type, is accentuated in an intense red and placed in the center of the cover. In addition, Tschichold includes a three ruled frame device running around the edge of the slipcase to complement the typography to acheive balanced perfection. The book was produced on a specially made bluewhite wove paper by Wiggins, Teape & Co., and printed by Silk & Terry.

Monotype typefaces
During the 1920s and 1930s The Monotype Corporation, under the direction of “typographic consultant” Stanley Morison (1889-1967), raised the standard of British publishing and printing by reviving a series of classical typefaces for machine composition. By the time Tschichold arrived at Penguin Books, the setting of type by machine had become an accepted practice by printers and publishers, as composition machines had become more proficient and books composed and printed by mechanical means were considered as superb as those created by hand. The revolution of mechanical production moved quickly through the printing trade as composition machines became more proficient.
Tschichold adopted The Monotype Corporation’s most distinguished typefaces for Penguin Books, skillfully identifying the right face for every variety of book and choosing the font that would most appropriately suit the personality of the given text, for example Caslon Old Face with its distinctive and charming oblique styling for the Penguin Musical Scores, Gill Sans for the Pelican Books series (Figure 22) and the illustrated edition of The artist at work, (Figure 23) the often relied on Bembo with its discrete qualities for the Penguin Shakespeare series, (Figure 24) and the elegant and slender features of Bell for many of the Penguin Poets. (Figure 25)

Back to Switzerland
Tschichol dresolved to return to Switzerland in December 1949, having felt that his work at Penguin was complete, coupled with the substantial drop in the value of the English pound. His last task was recommending compatriot Hans Schmoller (1916-85) from the Curwen Press as his successor.
Tschichold’s only design assistant, Erik Ellegaard Frederiksen (1924-1997), left Penguin on the same day as his mentor, but returned to Penguin in February 1950to help Schmoller transition into his new job. The tradition of typographic excellence in book design continued at Penguin Books. As Penguin’s production director, Schmoller maintained and built upon the design standards and composition rules implemented by Tschichold. (Figure 26)
During his 25-year tenure, Schmoller carefully modified and adapted the composition rules to reflect the continuous technological developments in the publishing and printing industry. Tschichold commented on his successor by saying: “I am also glad that my work is being well taken care of by H.P. Schmoller, a firstclass book designer, and its fundamental lines can now hardly be altered.” [5]
Adherence to his design principles gave Tschichold the time to concentrate on the character of each book and add his personal esthetic touch. Tschichold’s tenure at Penguin, during which he designed or prepped for press 500 elegant books—sometimes one per day—was a significant chapter in his career. He could claim to be the first typographer to successfully design and manage, on such a wide-ranging scale—book series, editors, compositors, binders and printers—the mass production of books for a publishing firm.
Late in his career he reflected on his experience and efforts at Penguin Books by saying, “I could be proud,” he wrote, “of the million Penguin books for whose typography I was responsible. Beside them, the two or three luxurious books I have designed are of no importance. We do not need pretentious books for the wealthy, we need more really well-made ordinary books.” [6]

[1] Tschichold, Jan, “Glaube und Wirklichkeit (Belief and Reality).” Schweizer Graphische Mitteilungen June (1946). Trans. Ruari McLean. Jan Tschichold: typographer. (Boston: David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc. 1975): 134.
[2] Tschichold, Jan. “Lecture to the Typography USA seminar sponsored by The Type Directors Club, New York on 18 April 1959.” Print XVIII 1 (1964): 16–17.
[3] Ruari McLean, Jan Tschichold: typographer, Mein Reform der Penguin Books, Schweizer Graphische Mitteilungen, No. 6, 1950 (Boston: David R Grodine, Publisher, Inc., 1975), p. 145.
[4] Letter to Ruari McLean, Esq. British Printer, The international monthly printing publication. (Maclean- Hunter Ltd, May 12, 1975), p.1.
[5] Ruari McLean, Jan Tschichold: typographer, Mein Reform der Penguin Books, Schweizer Graphische Mitteilungen, No. 6, 1950 (Boston: David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc., 1975), pp. 147.
[6] Jost Hochuli. Jan Tschichold, Typographer and Type Designer, 1902-1974. The English translation of the catalogue is by Ruari McLean, W.A. Kelly and Bernard Wolpe. (Edinburgh: National Library of Scotland, 1982), p.35

[1] Burke, Christopher. Active literature: Jan Tschichold and New Typography. London: Hyphen Press, 2007.
[2] de Jong, Cees W., Alston W. Purvis, Martijn F. Le Coultre, Richard B. Doubleday and Hans Reichart. Jan Tschichold—Master Typographer: His Life, Work & Legacy. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2008.
[3] Doubleday, Richard B. “Jan Tschichold at Penguin Books: A Resurgence of Classiscal Book Design” Baseline International Typographics Magazine 49. Kent: Bradbourne Publishing Ltd., 2006.
[4] Hollis, Richard. Swiss Graphic Design: The Origins and Growth of an International Style, 1920– 1965. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.
[5] McLean, Ruari. Jan Tschichold: typographer. Boston: David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc., 1975.
[6] Muroga, Kiyonori, ed. “Works of Jan Tschichold 1902–74.” International Graphic Art and Typography Magazine (IDEA) 321. Tokyo: Seibundo Shinkosha Co., 2006.
[7] Tschichold, Jan. Die neue Typographie. Berlin: Bildungs verband der Deutschen Buchdrucker,1928.
[8] Tschichold, Jan. Typographische Gestaltung. Basel: Benno Schwabe & Co., 1935.
[9] Tschichold, Jan. Asymmetric Typography. Trans. Ruari McLean. New York: Reinhold Publishing Corporation in cooperation with Cooper & Beatty, Ltd.: Toronto, 1967.
[10] Tschichold, Jan. The New Typography. Trans. Ruari McLean. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998.
[11] Tschichold, Jan. “The Principles of the New Typography.” Texts on Type: Critical Writings on Typography. Ed. Steven Heller, and Philip B. Meggs. New York: Allworth Press, 2001.
[12] Williams, Sir William Emrys. The Penguin Story. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd., 1956.

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