Monday, September 19, 2011

Colophonic Spree

I feel your pain, bro.

One of my least favorite tasks at the store is sorting piles of books to be returned, a chore that more than any other feels equal to some of the cruel, eternal punishments dished out by those inventively sadistic Greek gods. Shelving is likewise never-ending, but is at least alleviated by constant novelty. Shuffling books around the display tables in an effort to keep things fresh and interesting appeals to the Tetris-lover in me. But sorting returns is a downer.

It's not merely that I have a soft spot for those underselling books that, having been given a fair chance on our shelves, are now to be banished to the dusty gloom of publishers' warehouses. I'll occasionally feel a twinge of remorse--I should've tried harder to convince people of your worth, poor, abandoned
Marcel Schwob!--but you can get pretty callous in this business.

The hardness of my heart notwithstanding, what I intend to write about today are publisher's
colophons, which are the first and quickest means I have of whittling down these ever-growing piles of books labelled with that kiss of death: TO BE RETURNED. When I find our returns sorting table creaking under the weight of hundreds of books that have failed to catch enough readers' eyes to stave off damnation for at least another few months, my quickest recourse is to roll up my sleeves and begin the sad process by plucking books from the piles by sight. To do this, I scan the spines for distinctive colophons.

It's a lamentable fact, maybe, that this is if not the only, then at least the most common time I pay attention to colophons. Because there is an art to the colophon that I appreciate as a bibliophile. (I remember as a younger reader scanning the shelves at my local, now defunct, Borders for the first image below, assuming that anything New Directions published was worth my attention.) But as a seasoned bookseller, I'll admit to using these identifiers more practically.

But! Wait! Please don't assume I provide the following logos simply because they are instantly identifiable and save me a few minutes when I'm playing book undertaker. A colophon is not necessarily a
black spot signaling doom. Those below are a few that I find charming, distinctive, or seminal.

The old New Directions colophon

The new New Directions colophon

A classic classic

A classic-er classic

It's true: owls think they're smarter than us

One fish (F), two fish (S), three fish (G)

For more colophons from the 1940s and '50s, visit The Design Observer.

And, to offset the risk that I've inadvertently created a subconscious association in your mind between a book's doom and the colophons pictured above, I'm including a completely gratuitous video of a cat stalking a few green apples. Enjoy!

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