Günter Grass, author and artist

Penguin_Gunter Grass_From the Diary of a Snail_front cover
Cover illustration by Gunter Grass. Penguin 1976

During the 1970s Penguin published five books by the esteemed German author Günter Grass. These books were produced during the reign of art director David Pelham, and they share the class and polish of so many Penguins of his period.

Günter Grass was a popular literary novelist who later won the Nobel Prize for Literature, for his “frolicsome black fables that portray the forgotten face of history.” His most famous novel was The Tin Drum, published in 1959 and made into an Oscar-winning film in 1979. Like other Grass novels it covers the Nazi era and how ordinary Germans dealt with it.

The first thing you notice with these Penguins is the burnished gold background which gives the books a feeling of prestige and physical presence. It looks like a brick of gold bullion, a suitable gesture by Penguin for a future Nobel laureate. They are like the gold Benson & Hedges cigarette packets from that time which marketed values of wealth and class.  

The titles are set in large Bodoni, and contrary to standard procedure for capitals they are packed together, “close but not touching”. The effect is classical and contemporary at the same time. No cover designer is credited so we can’t be sure who set the type and chose the background colour – David Pelham with Gerald Cinamon?.

The small illustrations were adapted from artworks by Gunter Grass himself; they are taken from the jacket designs he had done for earlier editions of his books (see below). Here they are ingeniously combined with the dominant large type. 

Penguin paperback cover of Gunter Grass novel The Tin Drum with large Bodoni type and drawing of boy and drum by Gunter Grass////

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Penguin_Gunter Grass_From the Diary of a Snail
The complete cover showing the gold bullion theme carried across the spine and back.

Gunter Grass visual artist

Günter Grass was an accomplished visual artist as well as being a major literary artist. Following the Second World War he had begun training as a stonemason and studied graphics and sculpture at the famed Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. For a time he worked as a graphic designer. Grass kept up his art practice and held exhibitions through his writing years. He developed his own iconography, often based on motifs from his own literature. He said, “I often turn to drawing to recover from the writing.” You can see his work from the 1970s, the decade of these Penguins, at the Steven Kasher Gallery website.

cover of early german edition of Katz und Maus by Gunter Grass with drawing of cat by the author//// Günter Grass illustration for his novel Die Blechtrommel, showing boy with drum

Günter Grass illustrations for early editions of his novels.

Günter Grass artwork called The Flounder, showing fish and human ear.

Günter Grass, The Flounder, 1977

Günter Grass at work on the lithograph stone.

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1 Comment

  1. I love the gold Penguin editions of the Danzig Trilogy. I’ve seen a gold version of the Tin Drum where the head of the drum is red, but I haven’t been able to find it again. Which is strange, because that corresponds with the color pallet of the 2 other books, yet the version you have shown is more common.

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