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The I-CHING and other books: McKnight Kauffer: Bollingen Series book-jacket designs (1947 – 1954)

Updated: Feb 14


For some time (years!) I have been attempting to produce an authoritative catalogue of book covers designed by McKnight Kauffer. I hope to be able to post my findings in the near future. Book dealers and bibliophiles will find a large number of book covers not included on existing catalogues / lists.

For the purposes of this Blog post I am focusing on Kauffer’s involvement in the Bollingen Series of books – an association with a book publisher which, at a time when he was becoming increasingly depressed and troubled, must have been intellectually and creatively rewarding.

“The Bollingen Series had no precedent in this country when it began, and it may never have any imitators.”

The Bollingen Adventure, D J R Buckner, 20 June 1982 New York Times

On arriving in New York Kauffer commented that a whole career and a third of his life had been left behind.

I have written elsewhere about McKnight Kauffer’s and Marion Dorn’s flight from England

in July 1940. On his return to the USA McKnight Kauffer immediately found work designing book jackets, three for Alfred Knopf and eight for Bennett Cerf’s and Donald Klopfer’s Modern Library.

Indeed, the first contact address Dorn and Kauffer gave was Random House (founded by Cerf and Klopfer in 1927) at 20 East 57th St. The Modern Library books were right up Kauffer’s street  - designing covers for William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Henry James, and an old acquaintance from London, Arnold Bennett. Since the beginning of his commercial art career McKnight Kauffer enjoyed designing book jackets, his interest in literature stemming from the time, as a young man, working  

in the Paul Elder book shop in San Francisco.

Bennett Cerf Blanche Knopf, 1932

Random House became the sole New York Photo by Carl Van Vechten

distributor of Francis & Vera Meynell's Standing in front of McKnight Kauffer

Nonesuch Press. Kauffer almost certainly Near Waltham Cross by Tram, London Underground

would have met Cerf in London. He designed poster, 1924 (To read about this poster see Graham Twemlow pp. 110-111 in Mark Haworth-Booth,

six book jackets for Modern Library in the 1930s. E McKnight Kauffer: a designer and his public, V&A Publications, 2005)

The Bollingen Foundation was set up by philanthropists Mary and Paul Mellon in 1941. The central aim of the Foundation was to publish the complete works of the Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, and other major scholarly works of analytical psychology, myth, religion, literature and archaeology. (‘Bollingen’ was taken from the small castle-like dwelling he had built in the village of Bollingen on the shore of Lake Zurich. He named it Bollingen Tower). The war years slowed the progress of the Bollingen Foundation. In 1943, while Paul Mellon was away serving as a first lieutenant in the army, Mary was left to find a suitable publisher. The Foundation board approved her choice of the recently incorporated (1942) Pantheon Books established by German émigrés Kurt and Helen Wolff. With a background of publishing  contemporary literature and scholarly art books the Wolffs had spent much of the 1930s seeking exile from Nazi Germany – moving from Switzerland to Italy and to France, eventually arriving in New York at the end of March 1941. A stroke of good fortune came their way when Russian-born émigré Jacques Schiffrin arrived in the Pantheon office. Schiffrin had fled Russia after the 1917 Revolution, eventually making Paris his home. Here he founded a publishing house which printed high end editions of works by Baudelaire, Voltaire, Stendhal, and André Gide (Gide became a close friend and helped Schiffrin leave Paris and seek refuge in the USA). By joining Pantheon Books Schiffrin not only  brought his intellectual and cultural legacy to the publishing enterprise, but also his attention to detail in the layout of the pages.

Kurt Wolff and Jacques Schiffrin, 1940

Mary and Paul Mellon, circa 1940

By the mid-1940s McKnight Kauffer was acquiring a diversity of design commissions, most notable of these was his poster work for American Airlines and Pan American Airlines [more on these in a future Blog post], as well as a steady flow of book jacket design work. He was introduced to the Wolffs in 1943,  designing his first book cover for Pantheon, Man for Measure by the Jewish scholar and essayist, Erich Kahler. Two years later he designedThe Death of Virgil, by Hermann Broch (one of his foremost works – an English translation and in original German), and three more in 1947.

Meanwhile the Bollingen Foundation had begun its first publications via Pantheon, with Jacques Schiffrin and Stefan Salter (brother of George Salter, one of the most prolific and influential book designers of the twentieth century) overseeing the layout of the books and dust jacket designs. Salter had to leave Pantheon for other employment leaving Schiffrin and the Wolffs seeking a designer for their book jackets. According to William McGuire (McGuire initially worked as a freelance editor, later becoming managing editor of the Bollingen Series) the author and translator Hugh Chisholm recommended McKnight Kauffer to the Bollingen editorial team, in the first instance tasked with improving and refining the Gnostic symbol that Mary Mellon had chosen as part of the Bollingen Series colophon. Kauffer’s solution was to frame the symbol within thin rules and place it off-centre, often stamped

in gold.

From 1947 onwards Kauffer was commissioned to design the covers for virtually every book from the eighth (VIII) to thirty-fourth (XXXIV) in the Bollingen Series. During this period he was offered a much needed financial retainer to ensure he carried on working for the Series.

I don’t know how much he was offered, but the Bollingen Foundation was extremely generous in the fees paid to editors and translators. For the majority of his book jacket designs thus far Kauffer habitually resorted to an illustrative mini-poster approach. For the Bollingen non-fiction series however he needed to be more restrained, with a greater use of typography (until this period the titles on the majority of the fiction book cover designed by Kauffer were hand-lettered). He frequently used photographic images (taken from the book illustrations) or pared down symbols, combined with the author/s and title text set in either Alternate Gothic (designed by Morris Fuller Benton) or Furura Bold Condensed, his preferred sans serif typeface choices.

1950 - an example of the use of Futura Bold Preliminary design - note McKK's improved Condensed typeface + pared down symbol hand-drawn lettering - although 'Hieroglyphics'

is misspelt (he sometimes employed

an assistant to carry out lettering)

1948 Bollingen Series XI Heinrich Zimmer - Indologist and linguist - fled Germany in 1938 for Oxford, later emigrating to USA. Photo-montage combining a dancing Shiva and

the Hanging Man of Tarot cards

McKnight Kauffer took a close interest in the day to day running of the series frequently attending editorial committee meetings. William McGuire claimed that Kauffer’s book jacket designs for The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Joseph Campbell) and The I Ching or Book of Changes (Richard Wilhelm, translated by Cary F Baynes) are “virtually inseparable from the books themselves”, with the I Ching design being used on subsequent publications of the book. The first edition (1950) was published in two volumes, one containing the texts of the sixty-four hexagrams of the I-Ching, the second carried ancient commentaries, and boxed in an elegant slipcase. In 1961 the two volumes were combined in one edition, selling almost twenty thousand copies. Later editions attracted an even wider audience attracting a hippie culture audience. In the 1970s sales of thirty thousand a year were achieved.

1950 1985 (published by Princeton University Press)

One admirer of the Bollingen Series enterprise wrote: "Not since the days when Claude Bragdon was designing books for the young Alfred and Blanche Knopf has a publisher achieved such an unmistakably individual design, characteristic and yet continuously varied in typography, binding and jackets. Bollingen books are easy to recognize as the uniform, dark blue Oxford University Press volumes, and yet each title has its own dress, expressive of itself."

McKnight Kauffer’s last Bollingen Series book jacket, The Origins and History of Consciousness, by Erich Neumann was published in 1954 (McKK died on 22 October 1954).

By my count he designed twenty-nine books for the Bollingen Series.

The full list has been posted separately

(It is possible that he designed one or two additional covers for the series - if I find them I will add them to the list / catalogue)

1954 Bollingen Series XLII

(note Alternate Gothic typeface)

After McKnight Kauffer's death he was replaced for a short period of time by the acclaimed artist and designer Herbert Bayer, followed by Paul Rand. 

How the Bollingen Series books were numbered:

The Series were numbered using Roman Numerals, but there were numerous multi-volume sets, some published over a number of years. The Collected Works of C G Jung consisted of 21 volumes published over a 26-year period. To add to the difficulty in attributing the date of first edition the volumes were not all published chronologically

William McGuire (1907 – 2009)

William McGuire began working as an editor for the Bollingen Series in 1948 (later becoming managing editor). I contacted McGuire via email exchanges in 2001. He told me he knew McKnight Kauffer well and was a great admirer of his work. His catalogue of the Bollingen Series has been a great help in identifying the book covers designed by  

McKnight Kauffer.

Mary Conover Mellon (1904 - 1946)

Mary Mellon, was the driving force in setting up the Bollingen Foundation and launching the Bollingen book series. In addition the Foundation awarded more than 300 fellowships - the first going to ethnologist, artist and writer, Maud Van Cortlandt Oakes, later supporting poets such as Marianne Moore and Saint-John Perse (Alexis Leger). Sadly Mary Mellon did not live to see the success of her Foundation and book series venture. She died of an asthma attack in 1946. Her last words to Paul Mellon were: "And I had so much to do".

She was forty-two.

Far Left: St-John Perse (Alexis Leger) by Francis Renaud, 1936

Left: Marianne Moore, photo by George Platt-Lynes, 1935



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