78 Derngate Archive

Charles Rennie Mackintosh Book Covers

31 Dec
Barbara Floyer

For a time there was a belief that the cover on the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th editions of W. J.Bassett Lowke’s The Model Railway Handbook was designed by Mackintosh. There are copies of the Handbooks here at 78 Derngate and a copy of the book was displayed and attributed to Mackintosh at the 2006 exhibition of books designed mainly by Talwin Morris, but also by others including Mackintosh, for Blackie & Son, at Blackwell, the Baillie Scott House in the Lake District.  However, we now know that these Bassett-Lowe covers were designed by Kenneth H Cullen.

Mackintosh and Talwin Morris, who was the Art Manager with Blackie and Son, were both part of the same circle in Glasgow and it was Morris who introduced Mackintosh to Walter Blackie, who then commissioned him in 1902 to design The Hill House. After Morris’s death in 1911 Mackintosh designed his gravestone.

It was after this that Mackintosh was asked to design the covers for two Blackie series of books, The Rambler Travel Books and Rambles Among Our Industries.

The first of these was published in 1913. The design for the The Rambler Travel Series was printed on limp light green cloth and was a rather organic design, whereas The Rambles Among Our Industries, also on green cloth, was much more geometric, being an arrangement of little squares.

In 1921 Blackie wrote to Mackintosh asking him to design another cover for a series of Henty stories; however the design was actually used for a series entitled The Boys and Girls Bookshelf, circa 1926. These designs are much bolder. The title is placed in a rectangle and surrounded by five heavy lines that carry on downwards carrying rows of little squares. The books were printed in brown and blue on a grey cloth.

Another example of a Blackie book design which could conceivably be Mackintosh’s was the one that replaced Morris’s design in the 1920s on the shilling series Blackie’s Library for Boys and Girls. These covers consist of horizontal rows of semi-circles crossing vertical lines. The design reminds me of rows of birds and brings to mind the bird-like shape cut out of the Mackintosh high backed chairs designed for The Argyle Street Tea Rooms.

It is possible to find copies of Mackintosh designed books in secondhand book shops, book fairs or on e-bay. You can pay as little as £10.00 for a book and upwards to £80. It is probably the only way that the majority of us can ever afford to own an original Mackintosh design.

First published in April 2006 In The Friends of 78 Derngate Newsletter Issue 40.
Author: Barbara Floyer
Transcribed 2018: Barbara Floyer