Selling a million books! – or – creating the new Touchstone Books colophon

It’s been a lot of fun working with the folks at Touchstone/Fireside books on their rebranding, including the publisher Stacy Creamer and associate publisher David Falk.

During the process I learned a bit about printing and publishing that I had never heard before.  In publishing a logo is called a colophon.  It’s history traces back to the times of private printers in 15th century Europe.  Not surprisingly, it is also known as a printer’s mark.

There is something talismanic about a book colophon.  A symbol, a calling.  Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time looking at those talismans on the spines of books.  A by-product of a life surrounded by books — everything from working at a used book depot to working for J.D. Salinger’s literary agent, to my graduate degree in creative writing and my own fiction writing.  Right or wrong, I  judge a book not by its cover but by the colophon on the cover.  The 3 fish of FSG.  The borzoi dog of Alfred A. Knopf.  And the Penguin.

Farrar Straus & Giroux colophon

W.A. Dwiggins created many versions of the Knopf borzoi colophon.

Borzoi colophon by W.A. Dwiggins

Paul Rand did a borzoi colophon, too:

Borzoi colophon by Paul Rand

And a more recent one by Triboro Design.

Borzoi colophon by Triboro Design

It is wonderful to trace how the colophons of Knopf have gone in so many directions and yet maintained their integrity and coherence.

There’s something here at branding people can discover.  Many of us in corporate identity and brand are sticklers about consistency, consistency, consistency in applying logos and designs.  When a design like the London 2012 Olympics comes out, with multiple variations, it violates this sense of consistency.  But Knopf beat everyone to this game years ago!

You can read more about the history of the borzoi here.  Did you know that Khalil Gibran created one of the borzoi colophons?

In the early 1990s I was at a dinner in honor of Peter Smith.  During his thanking the University for the honor, he explain that as a child he wanted to be a Penguin when he grew up.  That desire to be a Penguin led him to became a writer and involved with the arts — he is Director Emeritus of Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center of the Arts and former Dean of Columbia’s School of the Arts.  Ah, what a wonderful statement!  When I grow up I want to be a Penguin!  (Actually I am partially a Penguin, since they’ve included my writing in The Bruce Springsteen Reader).

Penguin colophon by E. P. Young

Here’s the anthology of writings about Springsteen which included my short fiction piece, “Asbury Park”:

Penguin anthology including my short fiction

A couple of days ago Stacy Creamer, the publisher of Touchstone, unofficially introduced the new Touchstone colophon on Facebook.  I’ll post it here when there’s a more official launch, along with some comments from Michael Thibodeau about where he drew his inspiration for the colophon.  We’ll also put up something more official on our company website.

I am expecting that the new colophon will be on millions and millions of book spines come this fall!  No pressure, Stacy and David!

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