The Art of The Book #3 – New York City Deco Dust Jackets From The 20′s & 30′s
Starting with a look at an all-time classic of deco design, New York Nights. (click on any photo to enlarge)
A native of Scotland, author Stephen Graham (1884-1975) goes on a tour of jazz age nightclubs, speakeasies and cabarets. Graham provides the grittier side of life in an up to the minute description of prohibition New York neighborhoods, establishments and people.
Kurt Wiese (1887-1974) illustrated over 300 books and later became an award-winning children’s book author. Besides the knockout jacket cover, Wiese drew all the illustrations contained in the book. This was the first American book he worked on.
Rian James (1899-1953) was a newsman writing for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle when he hit the jackpot and sold a screenplay to Hollywood in 1932. For the rest of his life he never looked back at his newspaper days, writing books, plays and screenplays for the movies, including the classic 42nd Street starring Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler.
Dining in New York offers advice on 125 restaurants and includes what to order and the sort of people you might encounter at each restaurant. The first restaurant profiled, Sardi’s, is still in business. It might be the first restaurant featured because the book’s illustrator Alex Gard (1898-1948) received free meals from the proprietor Vincent Sardi in exchange for drawing caricatures of the famous people who came through and dined there. Even today, Sardi’s walls are still covered with many cartoons of luminaries past and present, though Gard’s original works for Sardi’s are now stored at the Billy Rose Theatre Collection at the New York Public Library for Performing Arts. Besides working for other authors, Alex Gard illustrated several cartoon books of his own.
Sarah M. Lockwood’s book is a history and guide book of New York. Lockwood was known as an expert on antiques and design.
Ilonka Karasz (1896-1981) who illustrated the dust jacket and the book was an artist with significant accomplishments. From the inception of The New Yorker in 1925 until 1973, she illustrated 186 covers and designed many book covers for publishers. Running her own company of craftsmen and artists, Design Inc., Karasz was also an acknowledged expert in decorative arts, specializing in tiles, wallpaper, lamps, toys and pottery.
An amusing potpourri of stories. A book not for historians, but for readers who want to feel the spirit and brilliance of New York. Henry Collins Brown (1864-1961) had a love for this city and its past that cannot be measured. Brown wrote a couple of dozen books on New York and went on to found The Museum of the City of New York.
Nightlife Vanity Fair’s Intimate Guide To New York After Dark by Charles G. Shaw, New York: John Day Company, 1931 dj illustrator, Raymond Bret-Koch
Charles Green Shaw (1892-1974) a freelance writer for The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, gives you the lowdown on night clubs, speakeasies, Broadway, Harlem, Greenwich Village, restaurants, dancing and entertainment. He tells you what the cover charge will be and what kind of crowd to expect in each place. Shaw went on to a second very successful career as an abstract artist.
Overall this is a classic book, which is highly collectible due to the stylized art work of medical student, turned artist, Raymond Bret-Koch (1902-1996). Koch won the commission for the mural at the first Paris airport beating out such artists as Picasso and Larked. Koch’s long career saw his talents used in books, posters and advertisements.
As the cover sub-title suggests the book is, “a guide for the adventurous shopper, the exploratory eater, the know-it-all sightseer who ain’t seen nothing yet.” In her first book, of an eventual four about New York, reporter Helen Worden (1896-1984) of The New York World (later the World-Telegram) illustrated the book but not the dust jacket.
Charles K. Stevens (1876-1934) is probably one of the most important commercial illustrators of all-time, and yet because he died nearly 80 years ago at the young age of 57, he is virtually forgotten today. The Greenwich Village native designed and illustrated over 1,000 jackets including many best-sellers. A student of The Chase Art School and the Art Students League, Stevens did water-color painting and other art work for his own amusement but never sold or exhibited his work.
According to his obituary in The New York Times, “Stevens was credited with having introduced to the United States around 1914 the practice of designing poster-type jackets of brilliant colors.”
Among his major works, Stevens designed dust jackets for Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street, Richard Byrd’s Skyward, and Charles Lindbergh’s We. Many authors wrote letters to Stevens praising his work saying he had greatly influenced the large sale of their volumes.
Click here to read part 4 of the series.