I found a copy of Alan Powers's Front Cover at the local used bookstore last night and was pleasantly surprised to find so many interesting specimens: such as Edward McKnight Kauffer's cover for A.H. Adair's Dinners Long and Short; Vanessa Bell's cover for Virginia Woolf's The Years; Cesar Domela's cover for Michail Sjolochow's De Stille Don; Elaine Lustig Cohen's cover for Tennessee Williams's Hard Candy; and Bill Botten's cover for Ian McEwan's First Love, Last Rights. There were a lot of classics by Jan Tschichold, Alvin Lustig and Stanley Morison. One stunning example that I had somehow overlooked for years is the cover of Hemingway's In Our Time from Three Mountain Press (no credit for the design of the cover, but perhaps a precedent for Paul Blackburn's Dissolving Fabric or Clifford Burke's Printing Poetry). There were several pages of Penguin paperbacks, perhaps too many, or perhaps since I had recently read Phil Baines's Penguin by Design I just wasn't in the mood for more Penguin. There is much to cherish in Powers's sweeping survey and some of the descriptions of individual books are stunning--my only real dispute comes early when he claims "...Black Sparrow produces books that are collectible for their covers if for nothing else." I've never cared much for the literal illustrations of Barbara Martin, tho some work better than others. Among the Black Sparrow books I admire most are Jackson Mac Low's 22 Light Poems and Ed Dorn's Gunslinger. A solid text (note that both Mac Low and Dorn's books are leaner than the tombs of their more gregarious Black Sparrow contemporaries) combined with sound typography (those printed and designed by Graham Mackintosh are exemplary) make for Black Sparrow's best (if not most 'collectible') books. I would argue John Martin's business model created a hierarchy within each title: paperback; signed paperback; lettered and signed paperback; signed hardcover; lettered and signed hardcover; lettered and signed and handbound hardcover; etc. Curiously, Powers puts Black Sparrow, founded in 1966, in the concluding chapter, "Design and Digital Age." I'm not an expert on Black Sparrow, but the majority of the books that I've observed were printed letterpress or offset, and Powers quotes Barbara Martin saying that she "still resists using computers and shows how specific limitations of the older methods were a good discipline and could stimulate creativity."


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