I recently came across a new book series with beautifully illustrated covers. Covers that, going back to my old post “On My Wall?”, I would happily frame and put up in my apartment any day. I immediately set out to learn more about them.
This series of old classics is being produced by a new independent publisher—White’s Books. Consisting of only two people, one of which is book designer David Pearson, White’s Books is republishing old classics with a close attention to detail and quality, commissioning beautiful, original, pattern-based illustrations to grace the covers.
In a wonderful interview with Peter Terzian for Print Magazine (I highly recommend you read the full article), Pearson explains that their decision to start a new publishing house—despite the current challenging environment—was to give the form of the book the love it deserves:
Due to the arrival of eBooks, many prophesied the death of the printed word, but we see it as an opportunity to turn the spotlight back on the traditional methods of book production and to luxuriate in the craft and tactility of the physical book and the printed page. It’s lovely to be designing with longevity in mind as we aim to create objects that will be retained and cherished by their readers.
This trend towards beautiful books in response to the ebook seems to me to be a growing phenomenon (I’ve previously discussed it in my post on Coralie Bickford-Smith). With ebooks taking over more and more of the convenient-and-cheap market, that leaves traditional publishers to glory in the book as beautiful object. People buy physical books these days because they enjoy the experience of flipping pages, the new book smell, the unadulterated enjoyment in the form of the book, and this is precisely the space that White’s Books is jumping into.
Pearson explains that they have purposefully limited their scope at White’s Books, in part to keep costs low so that they could ensure that each book would be well-designed and well-made:
We can focus on the detailing of our books and make sure the small number of titles we produce are created to the highest possible standards. The finishes applied to our covers are very traditional and lend themselves to a certain kind of mark making, so where possible, we urge our illustrators to adopt similarly traditional methods to generate their artwork. For example, Petra Börner produced a paper cut illustration for us, Joe McLaren worked in scraper board, and Stanley Donwood worked in lino—all mediums that correlate with the very defined marks of foil blocking. … We give our illustrators approximately a month to create final artwork. We then wrap it around a cloth-bound case, printing with a combination of PMS colors and foil blocking. Internally, illustrative endpapers and a decorative title page are joined by a rather unusual text setting method rarely seen in the last hundred years. Each right-hand page sports what is known as a catchword: a hanging word that provides the opening of the following page. We believe that this aids the flow of reading, especially when using a larger, heavy page with a slow turning rate.”
Just reading his description of their process, not even seeing the covers, makes me want to go out and buy them all! But if you must check out the covers before you are convinced, or if you just want to spend a moment to enjoy them, here are the covers for Sherlock Holmes and Emma, and included above is the cover for Treasure Island.