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book (design) story #8

b. traven:
der marsch ins reich der caoba

büchergilde gutenberg, zürich / wien / prag, 1933
printer: druck- und verlagsanstalt "vorwärts" ag., wien
size: 24 x 17 cm
designer: bruno fuck

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the büchergilde gutenberg was a book club founded by the german printers' union. so it is not surprising that they wanted their books to be not only affordable, but also of high quality design and manufacture. what was more difficult was to find "big" german-language authors, as the established commercial publishers tried to keep "their" writers away from the low-priced competition. so the büchergilde was lucky to contract an unknown author who turned out to be a big seller – b. traven.

the man behind this pseudonym lived in mexico where he died in 1969. i won't go into details about this mysterious writer who tried to keep his real identity a secret. "der marsch ins reich der caoba" (english language editions: march to the monteria, march to the caobaland) is the third book of traven's six volume "caoba" series about the mexican revolution and the natives of the chiapas area. "caoba" means mahogany tree.

when the berlin büchergilde was taken over by the nazis in 1933, traven withdrew his rights. but most of his books soon appeared on the nazi's blacklist anyway. traven had his next few books first published by the exiled büchergilde. "der marsch", being the first, states "zürich, wien, prag" on its title page.

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the cover design, with its red, eclectic antiqua letters on blue cloth, and the typography of the inner pages are identical to the other büchergilde volumes of the "caoba" series. no designer is credited in the impressum.

in 1932 the büchergilde introduced dust jackets on some editions. "der marsch" was their first traven with a jacket. when you look at its lower left corner you see the word "fuck". this is not meant to be rude, but is – again – a pseudonym. "bruno fuck", sometimes also spelt "fuk", conceals the identity of boris angelushev (1902-1966), a bulgarian painter and graphic artist. from the 1920s fu(c)k worked on book illustrations for a number of socialist publishers in germany. i don't know many details about angelushev's life and work, but i quite like his chalk drawing on this traven jacket.

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b. traven has achieved cult status. it probably helped that a famous hollywood film was based on one of his novels: "treasure of the sierra madre" (1948), directed by john huston, starring humphrey bogart. is that why some dealers in the usa ask ridiculous prices for traven first editions, especially for copies with an original dust jacket? sure, these are not very common – but nonetheless: price tags of us$ 2500, as recently seen on a copy of "marsch" with the "fuck" jacket, are a f***ing joke.

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