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book (design) story #4

georg schwarz:

büchergilde gutenberg, brlin, 1931
printer: buchdruckwerkstätte gmbh, berlin
size: 24 x 17 cm
designer: heinrich schulze (gerhard kutzebach, adolf pohl)

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the büchergilde gutenberg was a book club founded in 1924 by the printers' union of germany in berlin. their goal was to produce affordable but good quality books for workers which they did successfully. although the büchergilde printed books in various design styles, they were also among the first to adopt the "new typography" of the mid-twenties. jan tschichold's famous 1925 manifesto "elementare typographie" (elemental typography) was first published in the union's magazine "typographische mitteilungen", and tschichold also designed two books for the büchergilde.

"kohlenpott – ein buch von der ruhr" is definitely a book about and for the working classes. it is about the coal miner's community in germany’s huge industrial area around dortmund and the river ruhr. we hear about the life and hardships of the workers and their families, written in a witty reportage style with a socialist vein.

the design of the book matches its theme. a dark greyish cloth cover bears the title in heavy black sans-serif capitals – looking like pieces of coal on dusty sack linen. the top edge is coloured flaming red. the end papers are deepest black. the title page is printed in a mucky grey futura bold. the text is in paul renner's futura, too, with bold chapter heads and captions. the asymmetric page layout and the huge page numbers, all at the top right, are "new typography" classics. there are also some great photos by erich grisar, anneliese kretschmer and albert renger-patzsch, often positioned flush to the edge of the page.

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"kohlenpott" is an impressive example of a design that successfully breaks with the traditional idea of an "elegant" book. it was among the 1932 winners of germany's prestigious "50 most beautiful books" design award.

after the nazis came to power in 1933, 30 büchergilde editions were blacklisted and confiscated, "kohlenpott" among them. in may of the same year, the büchergilde in berlin came under nazi control. bruno dressler, the book club's founder and director, was sacked and jailed for a month. he was able to leave for switzerland where he became manager of the newly founded nazi-independant swiss büchergilde in zürich.

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