Mackintosh Book Designs

Following a recent research enquiry from our friends at 78 Derngate, the Northampton home designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1916, today we post on an aspect of Mackintosh’s work that is still somewhat overlooked: his designs for books.

GSA Library is lucky to hold examples of nearly all of Mackintosh’s known book designs, in a number of different colourways. These designs were produced for Glasgow publishers Blackie & Son from around 1913. Mackintosh had initially been introduced to Walter Blackie in 1902 by his friend Talwin Morris who was then Art Director at Blackie’s publishing house. It is this introduction which led to him receiving the commission to design Blackie’s home, the Hill House in Helensburgh. In 1910 he also designed the memorial for the Blackie family in Glasgow’s Necropolis. Interestingly, Mackintosh seems not to have designed any books for Blackie during Talwin Morris’s tenure, and only starts to accept commissions for book designs a few years after the latter’s death.

Book design is a relatively under-researched area of Mackintosh’s oeuvre, though R. J.  Gibbs published some initial research in 1976 (see ‘Mackintosh’s book designs’, Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society Newsletter, No. 12, Summer, pp.5-8). Cinamon has also published on the subject (see ‘The first book-cover designs by Mackintosh’, Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society NewsletterSpring, 1991, pp.8-9)


The design to bottom left is often referred to as the ‘bird design’ and dates to around 1915. It was produced in a number of colourways, from blue on buff (shown here) to dark on light green, and black on red. We hold examples in most of these colourways.

The design to top left was produced for the series Splendid Half-Crown Books and is sometimes attributed to Mackintosh, though this remains open in conjecture (see Euler, L. (2008) The Glasgow Style. Atglen: Schiffer, p232). It also comes in light green cloth.

The third design to top right is generally dated to around 1926 and features a brown and blue geometric design on light blue cloth, repeated to spine. It was also produced in tan cloth. An initial sketch of this design is reproduced in the Gibbs article.


This design in black on green oilcloth features a vegetable design suggestive of water lilies. Proof specimens of this design were exhibited at the 1933 Mackintosh memorial exhibition. Ir was used for both the series Rambler Travel Books and Rambles in Science. It dates to around 1913.


A second oilcloth design dates to around the following year and depicts an attenuated tree with tendril-like branches rising into flowers to form an architectural frame. It was used in the Rambler Nature Books series.


Image courtesy Pete Moon 

The Rambles Among Our Industries series dates to around 1913 and features an asymmetrical chequer pattern. Proof specimens of this design were also exhibited at the 1933 Mackintosh memorial exhibition.




    • Hello Vincent,
      Peter the Whaler came in many different binding designs by Blackie from that period. I haven’t seen one by Mackintosh, apart from the questionable ‘birds’ design. But have seen and got others from different designers for Blackie. Please send an image and I can probably tell you who it is. Best wishes, Dave

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