The Penguin Shakespeare covers of the mid-1990s had an appealing antique quality. They were based on the First Folio of 1623 which was titled, “Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, Published according to the True Original Copies.”
The illustrations were adapted from work by Louisa Hare who had acquired a Heidelberg printing press along with a collection of metal type. She set up a studio near Stratford-upon-Avon, called it First Folio Cards and started producing small gift cards. The Penguin covers successfully adapted the visual idea of the cards onto book design. The covers are only credited “Cover image courtesy of Louisa Hare”, so the complete design, including typography was done by someone else, presumably in-house at Penguin.
The series lasted over a decade and became the official edition of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Louisa Hare’s cards feature a short quote from Shakespeare taken from the Folio, along with a contemporary illustration.
Every card is printed using traditional letterpress methods from blocks on finest quality textured card using hand mixed inks. The use of blocks gives the added dimension of impression into the card offering texture and character. The cards are not glossy but tactile – the method of their manufacture differing little in principle from that used in Shakespeare`s own time. To date there are over 130 original designs. The text used is facsimile of the 1623 First Folio editions of Shakespeare`s works. Each extract is either colourfully decorated, or more usually illustrated.
Hare sold the cards through the The Globe Theatre, RSC, Stratford and similar outlets. They seem to be no longer available. Click here to watch a video of Louisa Hare printing the cards.
For a further article about Penguin Shakespeares, go to The Partial View: Shakespeare Series.