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Sometimes we come across an unusual item in book collecting without realizing the immediate reason why.

Not so long ago, I purchased a small octavo sized book with a book dust jacket designed by the German book and jacket designer George Salter (1897-1967) titled: Ex Libris. The book was published on the occasion of the First National Book Fair in New York and compiled by author, novelist and journalist Christopher Morley. Upon checking the date in the book, I realized the publishing date of 1936 was very close to the the 1934 date when Salter had left fascist Germany for America.

Could this be one of the first dust jackets he designed in America, I thought? When I bought it I had not removed the dust jacket which was preserved in good shape, and I assumed the cloth binding a sort of dull tan was a plain binding, removing the dust jacket later I realized that I had a little gem on my hands.

The cloth binding has the authors’ names, whose quotes were used in the book, printed in gilt on the cover, but instead of running horizontally with the eye across the cover they were printed vertically (illustrated) running with the spine. This was the first ever binding so produced in America in this fashion I have seen. In 1936 the “Age of Design Streamlining”, the spine has two authors’ names printed on it, besides the compiler’s name Christopher Morley (1890-1957) .

Although it is not at par with the great French state of the art inventive bookbinding and design, it certainly has enough merit to share with you. It is also an attestation of the American Avant garde spirit of those years and provides us, at the same time, with some  insight about the popularity of the authors whose quotes were used.

The dust jacket designer George Salter already had a great German career behind him and became an influential figure in book design, typography and printing circles in America that would last well into his later years. The year before he arrived in America, Columbia University Library had honored him with an exhibition of his works. The book designer for Ex Libris was a fellow German: Ernst Reichl (1899-1981) well known in Germany and even better known perhaps in America for the stupendous design of the first American edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses  published in 1934 by Random House.

Ernst Reichl designed over 2500 books during his long career.