Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Ionicus ~ The William Kimber Covers

During the seventies and eighties (of the last century, which I personally remember - oh, that makes me feel old), William Kimber & Co. published a number of supernatural fiction books with jackets designed by Ionicus. Kimber founded his publishing company in 1950, after working for Hutchinson for seventeen years. Initially specialising in war memoirs, autobiographies and books about motor-racing, Kimber began producing supernatural fiction regularly after the success of Haunted Cornwall, edited by Denys Val Baker, in 1973. The company published anthologies containing both classic and new stories, single author collections and novels, until it was bought out by Thorsons in 1988.*

They do say that you should never judge a book by its cover, but I began buying Kimber books a little while back precisely because I like the Ionicus covers. They remind me of wet Saturday afternoons spent browing around bookshops with my family when I was a nipper - happy days. The covers are atmospheric but polite, lacking in blood and guts... gently sinister. I find them nostalgically charming.

Ionicus was the pen name of Joshua Charles Armitage (1913 ~ 1998). He contributed beautifully crafted illustrations to Punch for more than forty years (his first design appeared in 1944), and designed covers and internal illustrations for more than four hundred books, including numerous titles for children. He was best known for his cover designs for P. G. Wodehouse reissues; he produced more than fifty covers for Penguin Books' Wodehouse paperback series.

I set out to find as many Kimber-Ionicus books as possible in nice condition, but found that it wasn't easy to get a complete listing of them. So, I decided to start my own list, with as much bibliographical information added as possible, including contents listings and scans of complete dust jackets. It's a work in progress, and you can find it by clicking here.

The cost of William Kimber's supernatural books vary quite a bit from title to title. For example, you can pick up a nice copy of Stories of Haunted Inns for five to ten pounds (that's about $8~17), whereas Tales from the Other Side, by R. Chetwynd-Hayes, is scarce and goes for around £150 ($250) in similar condition at the moment. Quite a lot of Kimber books offered for sale now were remaindered or are ex-library books, so it's not difficult to get reading copies, but it can be pretty difficult to get ones in fine condition.

 *  According to WATCH (Writers Artists and Their Copyright Holders): William Kimber was purchased by Thorsons in 1988. Thorsons was purchased by William Collins in 1989. William Collins became wholly owned by News Corporation in 1990, and was then incorporated into HarperCollins Publishers. The name of William Kimber has not been used for publishing since about 1989.

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