1940 Columbia Record Company Catalog, Alex Steinweiss designer, Alex Steinweiss: The Inventor of the Modern Album Cover book title, Columbia Records, culture, design, Kevin Reagan, Kevin Reagan author, Modernist cover illustration, Steve Heller, Steven Heller author
Here is what I consider an interesting find. The 1940 Columbia Record Company Catalog. The cover designed by Alex Steinweiss, the young art director for Columbia Records, is discreetly signed on the back of the catalog cover, that features the other half of the discs and no other writing at all. The front cover is distinctly modernist in approach and a departure from some of the more frivolous designs Steinweiss did on some of the better known record covers for Columbia. Here is a typical later cover done by him which makes his style immediately recognizable:
The modern record cover was actually invented by Steinweiss, who was the first designer to use color on what was up to then a drab beige plain wrapper. The catalog index shows many classical music listings and is shown below:
The catalog also has a useful Musician’s biography section. Interesting to note, is number 10 on the index, the add-a-part records. These were made specifically for musicians playing a certain instrument like piano or violin that would be left out of the performed score so you could play your own version with the orchestra when you wanted and where you wanted. You could than listen to another record with all the instruments being played and hear what it should sound like. Nobody would know where you would have learned to perfectly play that particular piece of music. Interesting!
For more reading on this fabulous twentieth century designer have a look at the the 2011 book (I have not seen it personally and your comments on it are invited) Alex Steinweiss: The Inventor of the Modern Album Cover [Hardcover] by Kevin Reagan (Author), Steven Heller (Author) Launched with the following press statement excerpt: The man who launched the Golden Age of album cover design “I love music so much and I had such ambition that I was willing to go way beyond what the hell they paid me for. I wanted people to look at the artwork and hear the music.” —Alex Steinweiss
Alex Steinweiss invented the album cover as we know it, and created a new graphic art form. In 1940, as Columbia Records’ young new Art Director, he pitched an idea: Why not replace the standard plain brown wrapper with an eye-catching illustration? The company took a chance, and within months its record sales increased by over 800 per cent. His covers for Columbia—combining bold typography with modern, elegant illustrations—took the industry by storm and revolutionized the way records were sold.
Over three decades, Steinweiss made thousands of original artworks for classical, jazz, and popular record covers for Columbia, Decca, London, and Everest, as well as, logos, labels, advertising material, even his own typeface, the Steinweiss Scrawl. He launched the golden age of album cover design and influenced generations of designers to follow.