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book (design) story #17

markus kutter:
schiff nach europa

verlag arthur niggli, teufen, 1957
printer: birkhäuser ag, basel
size: 24 x 16 cm
designer: karl gerstner

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we have come across the name of markus kutter (1925-2005) as the co-author of three brochures about urban planning (book stories 5, 14, 15). like these, kutter's novel "schiff nach europa" (ship to europe) was "optisch organisiert" (visually organised) – as it says in the impressum – by karl gerstner (*1930). "optische organisation" for visual design is an expression jan tschichold liked to use, e.g. in this book (p.9 and 22).

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kutter's story is an experimental novel about a journey from new york to europe on the liner "andrea doria" which actually sank before the book was finished as mentioned in the afterword. the book is primarily known for its experimental design by gerstner that won a "most beautiful swiss books" award.

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there is a dedication signed and dated "ka, 15.X.57"– "ka" standing for karl gerstner, like in book 16.

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the halftitle page is rather surprising: the cut-up letters mark a "deconstructivist" style already beyond the classic swiss typography of the 1950s. it is related to gerstner's art, e.g. his modular multiples which could be recombined by the user – see the leaflet in 18.

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the book is also a kind of hommage to the sans-serif typefaces akzidenz-grotesk (used for the bigger, hand-set sizes) and monotype grotesque (used for the machine-set copy). the many different sizes and weights make some pages almost look like a type specimen catalogue. five years later gerstner explained in another book why he loves akzidenz-grotesk so much (see my next story).

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update may 2015: a very nice reprint of this design icon is available now, published by the brand new triest verlag. I was asked to provide a foreword for the new edition – a great honor. thank you, andrea and kerstin! the reprint comes with a newly designed dustjacket, however a reproduction of the original dustjacket is on the back – so it can be turned around to provide the full experience. go and buy as long as the supply lasts!

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