Do judge a book by its cover

I own too many books, so many that I have had to introduce a rule that if a new one comes in, an old one has to go. I’m not sure if I can keep it up because I love some covers so much I will never let them go. Here are a few examples loosely based on the subject ‘ graphic pattern’. There’s also background on the designers where I could find it. Enjoy!

A series of ‘pocket’ music scores, to ‘meet the needs of concert-goers and amateurs of music. Each had a special introduction by the editor (Dr Gordon Jacob) and a biographical note by a music critic. They were sized to fit easily into a pocket or handbag. The first SC1: Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor was issued in June 1949 (my copy is a reprint from 1950). The final volume, SC30 appeared in April 1956. The Mozart cover was designed by Elizabeth Friedländer. She was an outstanding illustrator – you can find more information (and plenty more images of her work) at

Cover design by Sarah Nechamkin. Published in 1953

Sarah Nechamkin was born in London in 1917 into a family of artists recently arrived from Russia. She studied at the Chelsea School of Art from 1934 to 1938, and returned to teach there for six years (1946-52), while working at the same time as a freelance artist and designer. Her pattern papers for the Curwen Press and Penguin Books are now recognized as classics of post-War graphic design, while her work as a book illustrator includes several collections of  fairy tales, legends and nursery rhymes. She moved to Ibiza in 1961 and was active as an artist until her late nineties. She passed away in 2017.

Cover design by Dennis Beytagh. Published in 1954

Dennis Beytagh was born in Shanghai in 1924. In 1935 the family settled in England. After the war Beytagh trained at London’s Central School of Arts and Crafts, then worked in London from 1949 until 1955, before moving to New Zealand . He passed away in Okahune in 2016.

Eugen Diederichs Verlag

Founded in 1896. Since 1988 its ownership changed hands more than once and it is now an imprint of The Random House group .

Persian Fairy-tales, 1958. Cover designed by Hans Hermann Hagedorn

Hans Hagedorn was born in 1913 in Hamburg. He studied in Berlin and Stuttgart and worked as freelance graphic artist for numerous publishers. He is also known for being a watercolour artist. He passed away in 1998.

Finnish and Estonian Fairy-tales, 1962. Cover designed by Hans Hermann Hagedorn


In 1912, at the suggestion of author Stefan Zweig, the Insel Verlag (founded in 1901) started publishing small, good quality, yet affordable and aesthetically produced books  of prose, poetry and essays by classical and contemporary authors. And so the Insel-Bücherei was born. The books are paperback size, bound in cardboard with patterned cover papers* and what became characteristic labels for the titles. Some editions have been awarded the “most beautiful book of the year” by the German Book Art Foundation. No surprise that they became extremely popular, are still going strong today and are highly collectable.
* originally based on templates of historical prints – but many are now especially commmissioned.

The first book in the series was Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke’( The Love and Death of Cornet Christopher Rilke). My copy is a 1978 facsimile of the original, published to celebrate the 1000th issue. There are now over 1, 400 issues and many dedicated collectors. For more images of covers I recommend Sammlung Jenne.

Collecting these titles is not without its challenges, because after 1945 publication continued in East Germany: Leipzig, the original headquarters, and in West Germany: initially Wiesbaden, later Frankfurt (the Insel-Verlag was taken over by Suhrkamp in 1963). Many East and West German editions were given the same title and number in the series, but with different design and sometimes varying content. After reunification the publishing house also reunified with Frankfurt becoming the main office and Leipzig the secondary. In 2010 the company (now part of Suhrkamp) moved to Berlin. A more detailed history can be found (in German) on the Suhrkamp website.


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