As a lover of typography and design, I of course own a few Penrose Annuals: for those of you who don’t know, the Penrose Annual was a London-based review of the graphic arts that was published from 1895 to 1982, showcasing, in its inimitable co-operative spirit, the design and printing developments of the previous year. Apart from being fascinating reading for anyone interested in any form of graphic design, a Penrose is a joy to hold and physically page through- the inserts are what have always astounded me, the inclusion of new paper stocks, examples of ground-breaking book covers, fold-outs of advertisements: really, the Penrose for me is like a pop-up book for design obsessives. It’s great to READ about the history and developments of design, but to be able to feel and hold the paper developments is something else.
The 1938 Penrose is particularly important, as Jan Tschichold was responsible for the typography of the volume: Tschichold was a typographer and book designer, originally from Germany who lived most of his life in Switzerland, apart from a few long visits to England to work on projects such as the Penrose, and Penguin books (more of Penguin and Pelicans in another few blogs I think!).
Tschichold extolled the virtues of Modernist design and at one time favoured the use of sans-serif above all other typefaces- he did, however alter his views on this later in life, embracing forms of serif too. His work was described as “functional typography”- and his early “uprooting of convention” as the 1938 Penrose put it, was bound to “arouse criticism and even animosity”. That, for me, says it all: ground-breaking design should do both. Again, according to R.B. Fishenden who edited the 1938 Penrose, “Criticism is sometimes prejudice in disguise”, so surely to arouse criticism through design is in fact challenging morals and prejudices. Not just pretty pictures then.
If you don’t know the books, I urge you to seek them out and explore them. Your literary life will be the richer for it.
I’ve included a few images of my Penrose 40, to give you an idea of what I’ve been going on about. My favourite of these has to be Maholy-Nagy's menu for Walter Gropius: so clever, so simple, so beautiful.
Produced and Printed at the Leicester College of Arts and Crafts
Illustrations by Stanley Hickson
Inks, Volume 40
Menu, designed by L.Moholy Nagy for the farewell dinner to Walter Gropius