Feb 23 2012: Thirteen Abstract and Illustrated Dustjackets from Scientific Book Club Editions (1958 – 1962)

A large collection of these Scientific Book Club editions, dating from the later 1950s and early 1960s, appeared one Sunday morning at the Colwick car boot sale in Nottingham, and covered many more subjects than are represented here. The truth is, while the books were plentiful, some selection was necessary in order to carry those chosen home on foot. In the end, with the ongoing Robert Holcombe project in mind, I selected those titles I thought would most interest my fictional character (though his interests, inevitably, also reflect mine) and some of these were presented as screenprints during a performance purporting to give an account of Holcombe’s life and work back in 2010. Yet aside from their part in this one project, they’re fascinating books on their own terms, catching something of the zeitgeist of their era (sitting, as they do, close to the mid-point between the first use of Atom Bombs on civilian cities in 1945 and the lunar landings of 1969) and inevitably reflect a high Cold War mentality: titles like Men And Atoms, Recent Advances in Soviet Science and The Birth of the Bomb are evocative of all this in themselves, and the addition of studies in ant behaviour, meditations on time and the long story of human ancestry, all reflect the concerns of their day. There’s a technocratic and progressive flavour that is in contrast to a more humanistic tone elsewhere, and interestingly, the differences are visible in the dustjackets, with the more abstract designs housing the more technocratic texts, the more archaic illustrations the philosophical and reflective writings. Not all the designs are credited, but it would seem Leslie Wood, R.W. Woolley and Eric Fraser are responsible for most of those seen here, with Woolley mainly designing the more spectacular abstractions and Fraser the quirkier, illustrative Modernist designs, though there some exceptions even here. Given their origins as bargain reprints, these are beautifully made and designed objects, and a previous example of the Scientific Book Club’s work featured here, Stafford and Golightly’s 1970 study  LSD In Action, shows the standards were maintained through the next decade, at least.

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