The Brilliance That Was Ballantine

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Ian Ballantine was a publishing visionary. He and his wife, Betty Ballantine, founded the imprint that was synonymous with mass market paperbacks (Ballantine Books), and eventually Ian “invented” the trade paperback, with one book in particular on Rene Magritte that reinvigorated the Surrealist’s career. The original imprint, which was eventually taken over by Random House, was also known for its fantasy and sci-fi covers.

I met Mr. Ballantine a few times before he died at age 79 in 1995. His invention was so widespread and profound that it was like meeting Thomas Alva Edison and Alexander Graham Bell.

Prior to founding Ballantine, he and Betty opened Penguin U.S.A. and began importing such classics as The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells and My Man Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse. In 1945, they opened a reprint house, Bantam Books. Just months later, having bought the paperback rights for 20 hard-cover books, they released their first list, including Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and more. Ballantine Books focused on paperback originals, including science fiction, fantasy, Western and mystery.

Toward the end, Ballantine developed illustrated art and fantasy books, like Faeries by Brian Froud, as well as the 1992 bestseller Dinotopia by James Gurney. He always percolated with publishing ideas.

Ballantine books were recognizable in the ’50s and ’60s for their typographically playful and diverse covers. Here is a handful of varied titles and graphic approaches. Robert Osborn illustrated TV In America.

A History of courting
The shocking history of advetising
Fads & Fallacies
Listen Yankee
The shocking history of drugs
TV in America
The fabulous rogues
The jollity buliding
The magnifivent scoundrels

Thanks to master collector Jeff Roth for providing the covers and reminding me of Ian Ballantine’s unmatched contribution.

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