Magazine article The Spectator

Printing Matters

Magazine article The Spectator

Printing Matters

Article excerpt

This year marks the 70th anniversary of Penguin Books, a company that has done more for design in Britain than any other commercial or government organisation. The slightly improvised look of the earliest sixpenny paperbacks launched by Alien Lane in the summer of 1935 was put aside in 1947 when the German-Swiss typographer Jan Tschichold came to set new rules and standards of impeccable consistency. He was one of many émigrés in the field of design who, before and after the war, inspired laid-back English design with a new understanding of rigour and principle.

Justly celebrated for his early commitment to 'New Typography', Tschichold was at Penguin for only two years, yet is better known than his successor Hans Schmoller (1916-85), whose association with Penguin as typographer, head of production and lastly as a company director, lasted for 27 years, from 1949 to 1976. It is almost certain that you have in your possession some piece of printing that, if not personally designed by Schmoller, was produced under his watchful oversight. Even the 'In' and 'Out' signs at the old company headquarters, so inconveniently situated in West Drayton, were designed by him.

Schmoller's career as a designer is the subject of an exhibition at St Bride's Printing Library, Bride Lane, Fleet Street (Hans Schmoller: the Penguin Years, Tuesday-Thursday, 12.30-4.30, until 17 February), where his papers are housed as part of the largest reference collection of printing in the world. In the display cases are not only examples of finished books, such as the Buildings of England and Pelican History of Art series that Schmoller designed for his fellow émigré Nikolaus Pevsner, but also the corrected proofs and meticulously hand-drawn 'roughs' prepared by Schmoller for the typesetters.

Having worked as a young man in a printer's in Berlin, before coming to London in 1937 to attend a course run by the Monotype Corporation, Schmoller had learnt printing from the ground up in the days of metal type. He escaped his fate as a Jew in Germany by answering an advertisement for a printer in Basutoland, where he developed his self-education and international contacts, despite a quite unnecessary two years of wartime internment. …

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