A little-known aspect of Frank Godwin’s career, and talk about a particularly interesting cover-label . . .

One aspect of Frank Godwin’s career, which I believe few are aware of, are the cover-labels he illustrated for a number of books in David McKay’s series of books known as “McKay’s Young People’s Classics.” The cover-labels are the paper labels pasted to the fronts of many books back in the “olden days.” I believe that Godwin produced illustrations for seven or eight (or so) of the covers in that series (not to mention a large non-McKay books, principally Winston books).

The illustrations are interesting not only because there are beautifully done, but because they typify Godwin’s work and are easily identifiable as Godwin’s from a mile away. One other aspect of the drawings is that at least a couple of them are parallel to other work he produced.

Below is a section of the cover for The Arabian Nights (from that McKay series) which illustrates this well. The drawing shows Morgiana pouring oil into one of the jars containing the thieves. It is similar to another early illustration by Godwin often seen as the cover illustration to certain Winston versions of the The Arabian Nights. A portion of the latter is also shown (the one with more vivid covers and pure-white lettering.

arabian cropped 1

winst cropped

I have other versions of the lower illustration that were reproduced better — perhaps someday I will replace the second scan above.

In any event, I believe that the top illustration was drawn perhaps a decade later than the lower. That stands to reason, because even in the versions above, the top illustration appears more sophisticated and more nuanced (and more detailed, for that matter). The top illustration is also more dynamic, for we better see the oil pouring from the kettle, as it hits, and flows into, the jar, and Morgiana is in a more active pose–and we are looking down at the jar, rather than sideways or up–kind of drawing us into the jars. Yipes!

—Tom Sawyer

June 23, 2015

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