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book (design) story #13

henriette roland holst-van der schalk:
rosa luxemburg

jean christophe-verlag, zürich, 1937
printer: genossenschaftsdruckerei zürich
size: 21 x 13 cm
designer: richard paul lohse

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after 1933, there was no chance for books with a socialist, pacifist or otherwise "un-germanic" content being published in germany. many of such german-language books were printed in switzerland.

this rosa luxemburg biography is definitely one of these. it is the german translation of a dutch book first published in 1935. henriette roland holst-van der schalk (1869-1952) describes the life (and death) of her close friend rosa luxemburg (1871-1919). some of luxemburg's letters to the author are quoted.

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in the 1930s zürich-based artist and graphic designer richard paul lohse (1902-1988) started designing books for left-wing publishers such as the jean christophe verlag, a company closely linked to the swiss büchergilde gutenberg.

the impressive dustjacket for "rosa luxemburg" is one of lohse's early masterpieces. on its front he used a well-known portrait photo of luxemburg, while the back shows one of her letters to the author. both parts of the jacket are overprinted in red by a photo showing young socialists carrying their (red) flags.

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most striking how this procession seems to march from the jacket's rear panel to the black spine where it almost disappears in the dark – but on the front panel, the red flags suddenly resurface on rosa luxemburg's gleaming white blouse. there her name is printed in a semi-bold akzidenz-grotesk, the sans-serif that would become a trademark of swiss typography.

is it symbolic that lohse makes the red banners march "downhill" to the lower right? we don't know, but i will get back to this question in a later story. a poetic detail i love: look at the red flags sweeping through the white spine title, lending rosa's name a rosy colour!

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