Burke at Waterloo was republished last weekend. There are some minor changes in the text but the biggest change is the lovely new cover. This has naturally led to thinking about book covers again – a subject that has come up on my blog a few times lately.

One of my readers, Paul Benedyk, turns out to be a bibliophile and previous posts on covers made him think about the covers of books in his own collection. His response is far too interesting (and long) to hide away in the comments, so here it is shared with you.

Confessions of a bibliophile

Much to the frustration of my wife, I was collecting books in a minor way when we met, and have continued since we married (to the extent permitted!).  I now have something approaching 1200 books scattered around the house.  To be fair to my wife, she lived for a time in the house of a family who ran a bookselling business from home, so even the smell of older books brings back memories from the 1970s that she would have preferred to leave there!

Your blog piece made me reflect on the development of covers through some of the books I have, and I’ll mention three I have that might be of interest to you :

Josephus – published before 1930, I think 

I can’t lay my hands on this book at the moment, but I bought it only because of the book cover.  The spine had become loose and it was clear that, under a fairly normal looking bland plain hardcover, it had at some point been bound in old sheet music!  I’m unsure whether this was part of stiffening the original cover following a repair, or if using sheet music for this purpose was common at the time it was published.  Maybe one of your blog readers has come across this sort of thing ?

Charles Dickens “Specimen”

I was interested in this book, not because of this book cover but because of the ’story’ it tells about the time it was published. It’s stamped inside “Feb. 12. 1907  Louis Chaplais”, who I guess may have been an itinerant bookseller or perhaps the owner of a bookshop (but that’s just my speculation).  It’s not actually a Charles Dickens book, but a really nicely produced sales pitch by Cassell & Company for “the First Complete Edition of Dickens’s Works ever offered to the public by Subscription”. 

Its forty or so pages are bound in book format with examples of the proposed binding, typeface and illustrations of the series, making it very clear that the series would be produced to a high standard and available only by subscription.  On another page, not the one shown here, it reads – “Every care will be paid to the binding; the forwarding and finishing will combine good workmanship and taste.”

The covers of this special edition series, as illustrated within the specimen book, were clearly meant to impress from the bookshelf, rather than from the front cover itself.

Evan Evans – The Song of the Whip

This is the real link into your blog piece for me, as the cover of this paperback was produced by a distant relative of mine, who I never actually met. Abram Games (1914-1996) was a graphic designer, and became more widely known as a poster artist.  He designed some iconic posters to help the war effort during WW2, as well as a number after the war for London Transport, BOAC, The Festival Of Britain and The Financial Times.  He also designed postage stamps and was, in fact, featured on a stamp himself in 2014 in a series called ‘Remarkable Lives’.  I was amazed to learn that he also turned his hand to designing the occasional stained glass window and even a Cona coffee percolator. 

Going back to the book covers, as Art Director of Penguin Books, Abram Games ‘oversaw’ the first move into full colour covers for Penguin paperbacks, although only a few covers were his own work.  I believe the management of the time were not thrilled with this evolution into full colour covers for paperbacks and discontinued the experiment after a year or two.  I was inordinately proud, though, to find out that he himself designed the paperback cover for The Great Escape by Paul Brickhill ! 

His name appears on most of his work, printed in his own hand somewhere – in this case towards the bottom right hand corner of the cover, as opposed to the bottom left hand corner of the Evan Evans book.

So it’s interesting for me to see the evolution of book covers through books that I actually have on my bookshelves (barring one I can’t find at the moment !), and to know that the lovely new covers on your books follow a line of craftsmen with a number of skills going back several centuries. 

Keeping in touch

It was lovely to get this from Paul. Writing is an inherently lonely occupation and there’s little direct feedback from readers. It’s not just with books, but with a blog. Although I invite comments on the blog (there’s always a form at the bottom of each blog post), I don’t get that many. But, as you can see, I do read them and usually respond. If you feel you have something to say (that links to the subjects posted on the blog) do get in touch like Paul did.

Meanwhile …

All three of the previously published books about James Burke are now available in new editions (all with covers by the estimable Dave Slaney).

Burke in the Land of Silver features the British attack on Buenos Aires in 1806. Dastardly deeds, wicked women, sinister spies – all set against a vivid (and historically accurate) background of international intrigue.

Burke and the Bedouin finds James Burke in Egypt as Napoleon’s armies march on Cairo. Can one man change the course of the war? Oddly enough, it’s quite likely that one man did (though you’ll have to read the book to find out how). Was that man James Burke?

Burke at Waterloo starts with a little-known (though very real) attempt on the life of Wellington in 1814 in Paris. Bonaparte is in exile on Elba, but his supporters are preparing for his return. Burke is sent to infiltrate the Bonapartists and save Wellington. As the plot fails and the Bonapartist leader flees, Burke pursues him from the slums of Paris to the aristocratic salons of Brussels until the final showdown on the field of Waterloo, as French and British armies clash in the defining battle of the age.

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