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book (design) story #19

francis d. pelton:
sprung über ein jahrhundert

gotthelf verlag, bern / leipzig, 1934
size: 19 x 11 cm
designer: max bill

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have you ever heard of francis d. pelton? a writer who wrote a sci-fi novel that was translated from english into german by one "robert holl"? hardly, since it is all made up.

the true author of this book is franz oppenheimer (1864-1943) who was the first professor for sociology in frankfurt/main. oppenheimer propagated a new, more equal economic system and society, but he didn't believe in a controlling state bureaucracy as did most marxists. instead he envisioned a more liberal, market-driven socialism. coming from a jewish background, oppenheimer left germany in 1934, first to palestine and then to the usa.

"sprung über ein jahrhundert" (jumping a century) reflects oppenheimer's utopic ideas in the form of a science-fiction novel: a time-machine takes us to the year 2032 – see the calender date and stop-watch on the cover. oppenheimer certainly wrote it in german – the translation credit is just another disguise. an interesting aspect of oppenheimer's pseudonym: (james b.) francis and (lester a.) pelton are the names of two famous turbine engineers.

the cover of this paperpack is signed "bill-zürich". 73 years later this early design by max bill (1908-1994) still looks fresh and modern. the exclusive use of lower-case in the texts was sort of standard practise for a bauhäusler like bill.

bill liked his art sleek and geometrical, but in his graphic designs he sometimes left a personal touch in the form of handwritten titles etc. a distinctive feature of bill's handwriting is his treatment of german umlauts: instead of dots he preferred to place a little "e" above the vowel – as seen here in the word "über".

talking about a personal touch: who is the guy looking out of the round "porthole" of the time-machine? max bill himself.

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