Ernst Reichl: Wide Awake Typographer / Exhibition Themes

The 2013 exhibition at Columbia was organized by twelve themes. The texts explaining the themes are presented here with links to some of the examples.
Thematic texts copyrighted by Martha Scotford, curator.

Theme 1 = Book Design Concepts

Engaged, thoughtful, literate book designers, and yes, those who are ‘wide awake,’ take justifiable pride in their ability to enhance the reader’s experience through the choices they make about type faces, type sizes, how chapters begin, how different kinds of texts are presented, how illustrations relate to the texts, and even margins. If they have the level of control over the whole package of the book that Reichl often had, they will also choose the images or patterns for endpapers, the type and decorations or images on the bindings and case covers, and the materials used for bindings. Reichl always sought the connection between content and design; his designs added a visual level of expression to that of the words. Choices explicitly and implicitly told the reader something of the mood, style, historical period, location, importance, intention, cultural context, or organization of the text. Certainly it was important to express each book’s unique content and separate it from hundreds of others for marketing purposes, but that could be accomplished by just being ‘different.’ Reichl always had other purposes for his choices; he engaged with the challenge of each new text, finding something in it to inspire his design. These examples show how he worked to integrate text with photographs and illustrations, how he interpreted emotional or other content, where he found opportunities for special typographic invention.

Isak Dinesen, Winter’s Tales
New York: Random House, 1942

Amy Hogeboom, Dogs and How to Draw Them
New York: The Vanguard Press, 1944

Allan Ullman, Night Man
New York: Random House, 1951

Herbert Marshall McLuhan, The Mechanical Bride
New York: The Vanguard Press, 1951 (1st ed), 1967 (2nd ed)

Henri Daniel-Rops, This is The Mass
New York: Hawthorn Books, 1958

Susan Sherman, Give Me Myself
Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, 1961

Elliot Schwartz and Barney Childs, editors, Contemporary Composers on Contemporary Music
New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1967

Elias Kulukundis, The Feasts of Memory
New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1967

George O’Toole, The Assassination Tapes
New York: Penthouse Press Ltd, 1975

Leslie Lieber and Toni Miller, Fashion’s Folly
New York: The Vanguard Press, 1954

Frederic Franck, African Sketchbook
New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961

Dorothy Bennett, Sold to the Ladies!
New York: George W. Stewart, 1940

Theme 2 = Working with Authors


Reichl was an astute, critical reader and used his sense of the book’s content as a prompt for his design choices. He reveled in the opportunity to design for authors he admired. With prolific authors, he liked to establish what today would be called a ‘brand,’ a specific set of typographic elements (fonts, decorations) and modes of visual organization that could be deployed and varied over successive publications (whose final number he could never know). For Joyce Carol Oates, he even devised sub-systems for her different genres of writing: novels, short stories, and essays. He paid attention to what authors said about book design, and tried to please Gertrude Stein. And he was gratified when authors appreciated his efforts.

Gertrude Stein, Portraits and Prayers
New York: Random House, 1934

Gertrude Stein, Ida
New York: Random House, 1941

Gertrude Stein, Wars I Have Seen
New York: Random House, 1945

William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze
New York: Random House, 1934

William Saroyan, Here Comes There Goes You Know Who
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1961

D. E. Stevenson, Bel Lamington
New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961

D. E. Stevenson, Fletcher’s End
New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962

Joyce Carol Oates, Them
New York: The Vanguard Press, 1969

Joyce Carol Oates, The Wheel of Love
New York: The Vanguard Press, 1970

Joyce Carol Oates, Marriages and Infidelities
New York: The Vanguard Press, 1972

Joyce Carol Oates, New Heaven, New Earth: the visionary experience in literature
New York: The Vanguard Press, 1974

Theme 3 = Title Pages

Title pages are a book’s introduction to its content and its visual presentation. Title pages begin a series of pages, called front matter, that provide legal and bibliographic information (copyright page), lay out the organization of the book (contents page), perhaps provide context and/or comment (preface, foreward), and show the beginning of the visual concept for the book. Reichl’s invention was the double page title spread, famously used for Ulysses in 1934. In other books, difficult to show in exhibition or selected pages, he explored a cinematic progression or a reveal of changing elements. Reichl’s practice was to play out his visual concept for the book from the half title page to the index at the end. Each new section of the book, chapters in fiction, or parts, sections, and chapters in non-fiction, would be an opportunity to play with a variation on the overall scheme. Title pages are where unusual display type faces can appear, the perfect fonts for emotional depth, period flair, or geographical connection. And sometimes extra ink colors for illustrations or other special effects are afforded only for title pages. Reichl was a researcher; as a regular patron of the Print Room of the NY Public Library, he found visual materials to enliven many parts of his books, all free for use. The examples here show more of his double-page title spreads, cover and title page connections, title pages with various kinds of images or decorations, and those where special typefaces or type treatments made a contribution to the reader’s experience.

Stephen Vincent Benet, The Barefoot Saint
New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1929; limited edition of 367

I.J. Singer, The Brothers Ashkenazi
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1936

I.A.R. Wylie, My Life with George
New York: Random House, 1942

Budd Schulberg, The Disenchanted
New York: Random House, 1950

Richard Tregaskis, Vietnam Diary
New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963

Amos Elon, Journey through a Haunted Land
New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1967

George R. Stewart, Storm
New York: Random House, 1941

Elie Wiesel, The Jews of Silence
New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966

Theme 4 = Joyce’s Ulysses

Ernst Reichl’s 1934 design for Ulysses is likely his best known work and a very early product of his book design career. Its fame is due to the combination of an infamous text, a landmark legal case, and Reichl’s striking title page combining the space of two pages into a whole. This was technically Reichl’s second two page title spread, but it was the one to signal a new innovation in book publishing. Lost in the attention to the title spread is the fact that it is part of a broader design concept focused on large initial letters subsequently used to begin the three parts of the novel.

A brief history: James Joyce’s Ulysses was first published as a complete novel in Paris in 1922. The US government ruled it could not be legally published nor imported here because it contained obscene material. American publishers wanted to respond to American readers’ demand for the book, and to the author’s desire for an American copyright and authorized correct text. Bennett Cerf, the president of Random House, signed a contract with Joyce in March 1932, and then strategized how to bring the book to the US market.

They could have published and waited for the certain lawsuit. The plan actually executed entailed a carefully staged importation of a copy of the book (containing positive comments and critical reviews) and an official seizing of it. The book and papers were then part of the court evidence for the legal process and trial that was resolved on December 6, 1933 with the removal of the ban.

Random House had assumed this result, using the year of legal maneuvering to design, typeset and prepare the production of the book—all by Ernst Reichl, working for H. Wolff Manufacturing. The presses were humming; with the announcement of the verdict, Cerf ordered a first print run of 10,300 copies to be ready by January 25, 1934, to sell for $3.50 a copy.

The legal and publishing histories of this book and design are part of a longer and exciting story, impossible to tell here, but can be accessed on this website.

James Joyce, Ulysses
New York: Random House, 1934

James Joyce, A James Joyce Miscellany
New York: The JJ Society, 1957

Theme 5 = Bindings, Covers & Jackets


Bindings and covers comprise the packaging of a hardback book: the spine and the front and back covers. Traditionally, these were sufficient and designed to identify the book, at least, and sometimes to decorate it. Later, for protection and marketing the book jacket was devised, and attention to the binding and cover diminished. Reichl believed it all mattered, it should be coordinated, and he preferred to handle it all, including the endpapers and the woven headbands. On occasion he worked with other designers he respected. One of his joys (and frustrations) was to experiment with new materials and processes; here, again, looking for opportunities in production constraints. Examples here show his use of unusual materials (some not even intended for books), trying new ways to use old processes, and various concepts relating to the books’ overall themes and interior designs.

Gale Wilhelm, We Too Are Drifting
New York: Random House, 1935

Christopher Morley, Ex Libris
New York: National Association of Book Publishers 1936

Ernst Reichl, Streamlined Knowledge: Remarks about Optical Improvement on Schoolbooks in Pedagogic Respect
New York: H. Wolff Manufacturing, 1936

Dore Schary, Case History of a Movie
New York: Random House, 1950

Marc Connelly, A Souvenir from Qam
New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965

Chaim Bermant, Jerico Sleeps Alone and Berl Makes Tea
New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966

Phoebe Atwood Taylor, The Cut Direct
Taftsville, VT: A Foul Play Press Book, 1979

Pierre Boulle, Ears of the Jungle
New York: The Vanguard Press, 1972

Gloria Jahoda, River of the Golden Ibis
New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973

Tom Prideaux, World Theatre in Pictures
New York: Greenberg Publisher, 1953

Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, or Pearls before Swine
New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965

Lillian Hellman, Watch on the Rhine
New York: Dr. Robert L. Leslie, 1942 (limited edition of 349)

Theme 6 = AIGA 50 Books

Since 1923 the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) has supported an annual awards program to select and showcase the best in book and cover/jacket design. Publishers and designers submitted books to an annual jury of professional peers. During the years Reichl was involved, the 50 Books chosen each year were exhibited in New York and at libraries across the country. Reichl served on the jury twice and had books chosen 26 times. The selected books represent the variety of Reichl’s approaches and the vagaries of the competition. He was frequently critical of the selection process: “Since this [In the Imperial Shadow by Mirza Saghaphi, 1928] was the first book with which I had anything to do that was selected for the ‘Fifty’ let me say that generally I have been disappointed by the books that were selected—not only those of other designers but also by those of mine that were shown: always the wrong ones. In this particular case the honor came to me totally unexpectedly, and I might say that it spurred me on and made me want to become a good designer…” This critique would also motivate his collaboration in the Books For Our Time exhibition of 1951.

Essad Bey, Blood and Oil in the Orient
New York, Simon and Schuster, 1932; AIGA 50 Books 1933

Gustave Flaubert, November
New York, Roman Press, 1932; AIGA 50 Books 1933

Elizabeth Hawes, Fashion is Spinach
New York, Random House, 1938; AIGA 50 Books 1939

Janet Flanner, An American in Paris
New York, Simon and Schuster, 1940; AIGA 50 Books 1941

Charles de Coster, Glorious Adventures of Tyl Ulenspiegl
New York, Pantheon Books, 1943; AIGA 50 Books 1944

Anonymous, The Flower Lover and the Fairies
Calligraphy and illustrations by Jeanyee Wong
New York, The Scribe Series / Archway Press, 1946; AIGA 50 Books 1947

James A. Clark and Michael T. Halborty, Spindletop
New York, Random House, 1952; AIGA 50 Books 1953

Roy Meredith, American Wars: A Pictorial History from Quebec to Korea 1755-1953
Cleveland, The World Publishing Company, 1955; AIGA 50 Books 1956

Graham Billing, Forbush and the Penguins
New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965; AIGA 50 Books 1966

Theme 7 – The Designer’s Favorites

In his comments, Reichl described some designs as his ‘favorites.’ These were chosen based on various criteria, and are often those with subtle design decisions: he is working in a way that only other designers may appreciate; these do not draw attention to their design. Sometimes there is a personal connection with the author.

William James, As William James Said
New York: The Vanguard Press, 1942

Harrison R. Steeves, Before Jane Austen
New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965

Alberta Pierson Hannum, Look Back with Love
New York: The Vanguard Press, 1969

John Masefield, The Country Scene
London: Collins, 1938

Marshall McClintock, Here is a Book
New York: The Vanguard Press, 1939

Ernst Reichl, Legibility: A Typographic Book of Etiquette
Brooklyn, NY: George McKibbin & Son, 1949

Marshall Lee, editor and designer, Books For Our Time
With contributions by Herbert Bayer, Merle Armitage, John Begg, S. A. Jacobs, Ernst Reichl
New York: Oxford University Press, 1951

Theme 8 = Fun & Tradition

Books can be funny or have the purpose to make fun. So can book design. Reichl had a good sense of humor and exploited those texts where this could be part of the design concept. As well, he knew his design history and employed that knowledge where appropriate; sometimes for serious allusion or even imitation. Or sometimes the realms of humor and history overlapped into parody, and he really had a good time. Later he could be critical of his excess. Reichl was watchful for the texts that provided him the opportunities to experiment, to play, to express something new with typography.

Sidney H. Nyburg, The Buried Rose, Legends of Old Baltimore
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1932

Charles Dickens, The Life of Our Lord
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1934

George Kirgo, How to Write Ten Different Best Sellers NOW
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960

John W. Randolph, The World of ‘Wood, Field, and Stream’
New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962

Myrick Land, The Fine Art of Literary Mayhem: a lively account of famous writers and their feuds
New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963

Thomas C. Wheeler, A Vanishing America
New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964

Paul Olsen, The Virgin of San Gil
New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965

M. A. Jagendorf, Folk Stories of the South
New York: The Vanguard Press, 1972

Theme 9 = Production Challenges

Reichl was interested in and enjoyed all parts and processes of book production. By taking this broad view, and informing himself through experience, he had more control over and more variety in his work. He took on seemingly minor tasks to get things right, like drawing missing type characters. He accepted ‘impossible’ deadlines, like the atomic bomb book. He sometimes had to do the shipping. He frequently under-estimated his own labor costs. Reichl was engaged in book making, whatever it took to do it right. In these examples, he is working under World War Two paper constraints, experimenting with binding processes, faking fonts, wrangling large numbers of images, and accommodating editors’ special requests.

Austin Tappan Wright, Islandia
New York: Farrar & Reinhart, Inc., 1942

August Geddes and Donald Porter, editors, The Atomic Age Opens
New York: Pocket Books, 1945

Union Songster
New York: The Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1960

Arnold Friedmann, John F. Pile and Forrest Wilson, Interior Design
New York: American Elsevier, Inc., 1970

James McCague, The Cumberland
New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973

Theme 10 = Book Typologies

Though chastised by some of his fine printing colleagues, Reichl was willing to take on projects they considered beneath them (and him), like industry-related books. He was intrigued by the various problems of textbooks, corporate histories, trade catalogs, vanity books, poetry, and the Bible. Each of these types presented a particular collection of design and production problems, like using significant new typesetting technologies for the bibles. As to the varying ‘status’ of the projects, Reichl believed in craftsmanship, which is about the complete understanding of materials, the employment of highly developed skills, and caring how something is made, whatever it may be. These are examples of the variety of texts (some even without words), and the unusual book-making experiences he repeatedly accepted or sought.

Edward Hungerford, Wells Fargo: Advancing the American Frontier
New York: Random House, 1949

Bancroft Sample Book of Binding Materials
Wilmington, DE: Joseph Bancroft & Sons, 1965

Marvin Klapper,, Fabric Almanac
New York: Fairchild Publications, 1966

Richard L. Cohen, The Footwear Industry: Profiles in Leadership
New York: Fairchild Publications, 1967

Dr. Isabel B. Wingate, Fairchild’s Dictionary of Textiles
New York: Fairchild Publications, 1967

Edward Diller and James R. McWilliams, Unterwegs: Listening, Speaking, Reading, Writing, Literary Analysis, and Grammar Review – a Unified Approach
New York: Random House, 1969

The Layman’s Parallel Bible
Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1973

Charles Caldwell Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible: The New Testament
Chicago: Moody Press, 1976

Conrad Aiken, Sheepfold Hill: Fifteen Poems
New York: Sagamore Press, 1958

George Jessel, Elegy in Manhattan
New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961

Theme 11 = Scribe Series

In 1945 Reichl tried a second personal imprint to publish gift and art books, Archway Press, that lasted a decade. The Scribe Series was its first project, which envisioned more than the five actually published. The artist/calligraphers engaged included a revered type and book designer (W. A. Dwiggins), a young book designer (Jeanyee Wong), a well-known calligrapher and book designer (Phil Grushkin), and recent immigrant and up-and-coming book jacket designer (George Salter).

Thoreau, Henry David, What I Lived For
Calligraphy and illustrations by George Salter

Fables of Aesop
Calligraphy and illustrations by Philip Grushkin

The History of Susanna
Calligraphy and illustrations by W. A. Dwiggins

Blake, William, Selections from Songs of Innocence and Experience
Calligraphy and illustrations by Reynard Biemiller

Anonymous, The Flower Lover and the Fairies
Calligraphy and illustrations by Jeanyee Wong

Theme 12 = Books for Children

Though a minority of Reichl’s book work, his designs for children were a welcome change and presented different challenges. He liked designing with illustrations, trying new binding materials, and finding ways to reduce production costs. The series projects required working with the constraints of fitting text and pictures together within established page counts and two- and four-color signatures, the development of a cover or binding system that could work across multiple titles, and the teamwork of many editors, illustrators, and other designers.

Fun and Fantasy
Jeanne Hale, editor, Through Golden Windows I Series
Eau Claire, WI: E.M. Hale & Co., 1958; AIGA 50 Books 1959

Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island
Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
Hans Christian Andersen, Fairy Tales
May Lamberton Becker, editor, Rainbow Classics series
Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, 1946

Charlotte Steiner, Now That You are 5
New York: Association Press, 1963