• Steven Heller

Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Book Jacket Designers

In February 1947 a select group of graphic designers founded the Book Jacket Designers Guild for “the purpose of promoting and stimulating interest in the art of book jacket design.” Their espoused intention was to “elevate the artistic level by means of systematic panel discussions and mutual encouragement,” and do this through annual exhibits.

The catalog for the first exhibit in 1948 (pages excerpted below) stated: “The years 1940 through 1947 have seen no methodical display of book jackets in exhibitions. Since marked progress was made during these years it was decided to prepare a summation …” The work had to be significant, although the number of colors and style of typefaces was varied. But there were caveats like this …

“The committee assumes responsibility for the deliberate exclusion of one entire trend in today’s book jacket display,” the catalog stated in reference to “conspicuous top-heavy ladies draped in undress.”

This statement was signed by George Salter (chairman), Leo Manso, Meyer Miller, Jeanyee Wong and Miriam Woods. (Yes, their were eight women in the show, including Leona Wood, Ava Morgan, Erica Gorecka-Egan, Ilonka Karasz Elizabeth Lehman and Riki Levinson, although their names are little-known today.)

A broad selection of styles and stylists were included in the exhibit, from Lester Beall and Paul Rand to Salvador Dali and an odd piece from W.A. Dwiggins (below). Yet in retrospect, the catalog says a lot about design that edged into mid-century practices when the publishing industry was both cautious and experimental. You’ll see the range in the examples printed with color tints below.

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