Bruce Rogers’s Utopia

This time, we are continuing our exploration of the work of the book designer, Bruce Rogers. In 1934, Rogers designed and published a translation of Thomas More’s Utopia for the Limited Editions Club of New York. For that, he printed 1500 signed and numbered copies. The next year, the book was accurately reproduced and issued by the Heritage Press, which is the version that we hold in the MTSU Art and Design Teaching and Historical Collection.

This edition shows off Rogers’s design work with printer’s ornaments, as here, on the title page.

The Limited Editions Club was begun in 1929 by George Macy. It offered book designers opportunities to design and illustrate classical texts. Macy then started the Heritage Press in 1935, in order to make less expensive versions of these books, so they would be available to a wider audience.

Each Heritage Press volume came with a four-page pamphlet, The Heritage Club Sandglass, that explained the significance of the text and the design of the volume.

Book in its slipcase, with Bruce Rogers’s thistle device.
The paper for the cover was made in Sweden by Ingelborg Börjeson. She made small batches of each of her papers, so that many of the covers in the edition, even within one print run, have different designs.

Thomas More published Utopia in 1516 in Latin. The version here is the English translation made by Ralph Robynson, which was published in 1551, long after More’s death. More thought Latin was the only appropriate language for religious and intellectual writings and would not have approved of an English version of his book.

Although the translation is that of Robynson, the 1934 edition was edited to modernize the English spelling. Notes were also added in the margins to explain archaic terms.

The text was given a modern context by the introduction, which was written by the science fiction writer, H.G. Wells (1866-1946), who had written the novel, A Modern Utopia, in 1905.

The colophon at the end of the book includes Rogers’s thistle device and credits the book’s printer and binder. The Sandglass essay that was distributed with the book describes Bruce Rogers as “the greatest and most famous designer of books the world has ever known.”

In additions to laying out the book, and ornamenting it, Rogers chose copies of sixteenth-century woodcuts to accompany the beginnings of parts I and II of the text. As a typographer, Rogers must have been intrigued by the last page of More’s text, which illustrates his Utopian alphabet, with letters based on geometric shapes.

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