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book (design) story #110

dagobert von mikusch:
wassmuss – der deutsche lawrence

büchergilde gutenberg, berlin, 1938
printer: august pries gmbh, leipzig
size: ?? x ?? cm
designer: hans baltzer

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i don't usually collect books from the post-1933 era of the büchergilde gutenberg berlin – also dubbed "nazigilde" among the supporters of the independant büchergilde gutenberg in zürich. i show this book because of its interesting dustjacket design.

it is a biography of consul wilhelm wassmuss (1880-1931), a diplomate who became known as "the german lawrence of arabia": in ww1 wassmuss had organised persian tribes to revolt against the british – stories about national heroes were en vogue in hitler's germany.

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the dustjacket shows a map of the area known today as iran. pins with union jacks mark the positions of the british troups in ww1 – but a huge wall of letters with long shadows is blocking their way: wassmuss... what's quite surprising is the modernist, geometrically constructed, almost bauhaus-style typeface (also on the jacket's spine) – at a time when the nazis mostly used blackletter as a symbol of teutonic nationalism.

hans baltzer (1900-1972) is credited for the jacket and cover design. baltzer later became a well-known illustrator (especially for children's books) in the gdr.

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the red cloth cover is in a different style: portrait drawings of wassmuss the chameleon-like master of disguise – western diplomate, british soldier, persian soldier, etc.

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the typography is in a conservative german style: axial layout and blackletter typeface – the opposite of "new typography".

the author dagobert von mikusch says in the foreword that he based his book on an english publication by christopher sykes and wassmuss's diaries. mikusch is probably best known for his translations of english-language classics, e.g. rudyard kipling's "jungle book".

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