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The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA)

The 2002 mission statement of the AIGA states that the organization seeks “to further excellence in communication design as a broadly defined discipline, strategic tool for business and cultural force.” Founded in 1914, the AIGA has sponsored hundreds of exhibitions of the graphic arts. In 1925, they awarded the first of many medals to individuals with a lifelong contribution to the graphic arts. The first of the AIGA Fifty Books of the Year awards and exhibitions was held in 1922-23. “The purpose of the annual exhibition of the Fifty Books of the Year is to demonstrate the principles of good design and craftsmanship in the manufacture of contemporary American books.” In the late 1940s there were approximately thirty five calligraphers actively working who could not only letter, but design and deal with technical aspects of book production.

The Royal Hunt - cover

The Royal Hunt
Pierre Moinot, Translated from the French by Ralph Manheim; New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1955

Charles Skaggs created the typography, binding, and jacket design for this book, chosen as one of the AIGA Fifty Books of the Year in 1955. The Skaggs Collection includes the printed book with book jacket, a pristine copy of the book jacket, and a copy of the AIGA Fifty Books of the Year exhibition catalogue. Note the drawing of a borzoi dog above the publisher’s name on the title-page. Alfred A. Knopf published a series of “Borzoi” editions over the years, commercial publications produced with great attention to type, design, illustration, and bindings.

The Royal Hunt - catalogue entry

The Royal Hunt - title page


The District Doctor and Other Stories
Ivan Turgenev
Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Story Classics, 1951

This book, with typography and binding designed by Charles Skaggs, was selected as one of the Fifty Books of the Year by the AIGA in 1951. The lettering on the binding and on the title page is also by Skaggs. The illustrations are by Marvin Bileck.

Bileck (born 1920) in New Jersey, studied art and architecture at Cooper Union in New York City. He chose to use “a moving, economical pen line [to] parallel Turgenev’s humble style.”

The District Doctor - title page
Bileck’s handwritten note to Charles Skaggs, dated June 30, 1951, also is displayed here. Bileck writes an enthusiastic response to the completed book: “I have just received the finished Turgenev. The design is most beautiful and complete … The binding has the feeling of the era—if this is re-incarnation —you probably designed wallpaper for Russian drawing rooms in 1850.”
Letter - Marvin Bileck to Charles Skaggs

The Beggar and Other Stories - cover

The Beggar and Other Stories
Anton Chekhov
Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Story Classics, 1949

This is another of Charles Skaggs’ designs which was selected as one of the Fifty Books of the Year by the AIGA, this time for the 1950 exhibition. The typography, decorations, lettering, and binding design are all by Skaggs. The illustrations are by George W. Rickey. The cloth binding is stamped with genuine gold and red roll leaf stamping.

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