George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four was first published by Penguin in the early 1950s, complete with classic orange ‘triband’ cover. For its Great Orwell series edition, Penguin harked back to this classic template, but brought in some clever type and printing processes to make one of the most radical covers of recent years. Designed by David Pearson of Type as Image, it was the covering up of information which made the cover so remarkable: the title and author’s name redacted by black foiling.
“An early idea was to die-cut the title and author, as if cut-out with scissors by someone like Winston Smith, the novel’s main character, in his job as a historical revisionist,” recalls Penguin art director, Jim Stoddart. “David also had an idea to use white foil over the titling which would be moderately transparent and allow the title and author to be partially legible. But we agreed that, in the true spirit of censorship, black was the classic colour for such redaction panels.”
The pair also took an experimental approach to the sequencing of the print processes. Putting the foiled panels on first and then debossing the title provided a lot of stand-out but seemed heavy-handed, Stoddart says. Yet the preferred subtler direction, where the foiling was applied after the debossing, made the wording much less visible.
In this direction, Stoddart says, they had the support of Penguin’s managing director, Stefan McGrath, “who agreed that the cover concept was ‘all or nothing’; that a politer solution was not as strong.” The Orwell Estate also supported the design, and so Penguin embarked on the harder-to-read version. “The titling is still visible, but feels much more authentically censored,” says Stoddart. “The book-buying public have also given this cover their blessing by buying this edition with enthusiasm.”