This idea sprang from a phone conversation overheard a few months ago in the Market Partners International offices, in which one of the partners was reminiscing with an old friend about publishing animals past and present. Although heavy on whimsy, the stories behind these animals are one of those peeks at “vintage” publishing trivia that most of us, deep down, have difficulty getting enough of.
JP Leventhal told us the story this way: “When I was starting up, I had originally thought of calling the company ‘Black Dog Books.’ Everyone in my family was in publishing or had been. I was in publishing, My wife was in publishing. My two sons were in publishing. My sisters had been in publishing. Even my sisters’ ex-husbands had been in publishing. Only our dog, Tess, was not in publishing, and I therefore thought it fitting to honor her by calling the company ‘Black Dog Books.’ Peter Workman, [our distributor] thought that name was too impersonal and that I should put my name in. … Our name remained unresolved. Peter and I got together again a few weeks later. On that day it was clear that we should combine Peter’s instinct and mine. Of course the name should be ‘Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc.‘ Eureka! It worked. Silly perhaps, but it has withstood the test of time.”
“The coursing Borzoi has always been our trademark . . . A neighbor next door has a good specimen of Borzoi, and I have checked my details–head, build, etc.–with that dog. From the very beginning we have frequently been asked the meaning of the word “Borzoi” and what it has to do with books. When I started in business the publisher I admired most was London’s William Heinemann, and the sign of a Heinemann book was a windmill… Since a windmill obviously had nothing to do with books, I saw no reason why we could not adopt the Borzoi as our mark.”
–Alfred A. Knopf, 1948
In 1992, beloved illustrator Helen Oxenbury created the colophon of a bear holding a candle. It is innocent and wise, childish and benevolent, as well as timeless. Initially seen in full color, the Bear has been developed into a silhouette and appears today on every book for young children from Candlewick Press.
The stylized figure with the single pipe on the leaping dolphin that represents Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company today was created by Ismar David in 1958. The dolphin, chosen by Aldus Manutius to represent swiftness, has grown increasingly vigorous and playful. We know it today to be a friendly creature of great intelligence, and as such it is an appropriate symbol for many kinds of communication HMH seeks to make accessible to the public.
The Nonesuch Press fell out of independent operation in the mid-1960s, but since their founding in 1922, they have sported my personal favorite publisher’s animal: the hiking bear.
Via the very official medium of Twitter, W.W. Norton informed us that the story behind their seagull is “a closely guarded secret.” For whatever reason that may be, we admit to being a little relieved it’s not modeled (at least openly) after Chekhov‘s seagull. We’d hate to see this illustrious publisher end up like that eponymous bird, after all…
Overlook Press’ Publisher, Peter Mayer, told us this amazing story: “Many years ago, a picture story appeared in LIFE about two photographers who went to Africa to try and solve the mystery of where elephants go to die. In the herd the photographers were following, an old female elephant started to stumble along on the trail. On either side of her, the elephants leaned against her and pushed her forward so that she could continue with the herd. But she just couldn’t, and fell down, still alive. Then the herd made a circle around her and trumpeted. The photographers were asked why the elephants showed this incredible support and empathy. And one of the photographers said, ‘I guess elephants just like elephants.’ I turned the page of the magazine and there were six or eight pages of the War in Vietnam–fire, bombs, blood. And I thought, as I saw these pages, ‘But people don’t really like people.’
Years later, when I started the Overlook Press, I thought of this story and decided on an elephant as the logo. I asked my friend, Milton Glaser, (who also designed the iconic ‘I [heart] NY’ logo) to design something, and he came back with an elephant sporting wings, saying to me, ‘Peter, if you can make an elephant fly, you can do anything.’” That was more than 40 years ago.
“Penguin’s founder, Allen Lane, wanted a “dignified but flippant” name for his new series, suggesting an animal or a bird. His secretary, Joan Coles, came up with the idea of a Penguin. Edward Young of the Production Department went off to the London Zoo to sketch the new symbol.” (from Fifty Penguin Years, © Penguin Books, 1985)
“The original Gertrude designer was Frank J. Lieberman, an artist who had been commissioned to create covers for some of the first ten Pocket Books. When it was noted that the company had no identifying symbol, Lieberman sketched a bespectacled kangaroo, with her nose in a book and another paperback stashed away in her pouch. The designer… received all of $25 for the marsupial colophon. He also gave the creature its name. Why Gertrude? ‘For some unknown reason, I named it after my mother-in-law,’ Lieberman recalled.’”