The Pevsner Architectural Guides and an intriguing link to the History Today Trustee’s Award Prize Bowl

Yale University Press was delighted when the Pevsner Architectural Guides series recently won the Longman – History Today Trustees’ Award,  which is given for ‘a major contribution to history’ and represents an acknowledgement of the dedication of those working on the series and the impeccably high standards that they maintain. Upon receiving the prestigious prize, the publisher of the Pevsner Architectural Guides series, Sally Salvesen, spotted an intriguing link between the designer of the very first edition of the architectural guide to Nottinghamshire and the History Today Trustee’s Award Prize Bowl.

History Today Awards London Roundel

The Wolpe Roundel

Between 1950 and 1962, Berthold Wolpe, one of the masters of twentieth century design and typography, drew twenty-three roundels to illustrate the front covers of early volumes of the Buildings of England. Each is based on a photograph in the book and they range from evocative outlines of familiar buildings to lively renderings of robust medieval subjects such as the Durham door knocker, a windmill on a Somerset bench end, or a sturdy manikin at the base of a Yorkshire font. In the Pevsner office at Yale we still have some of the original drawings.

Quite unexpectedly we have had the happiest reminder of these lovely designs. At the recent History Today party the Pevsner Architectural Guides and Yale University Press were delighted to receive the Longman–History Today Trustees’ Award for an outstanding contribution to history. We were presented with an elegant stoneware bowl with the prize name inscribed in unusually beautiful lettering around the rim. 

The bowl was made by the potter Deborah Hopson-Wolpe, and a quick search confirmed that she is indeed Berthold and Margaret Wolpe’s daughter. She uses her father’s Albertus typeface for her inscriptions and she has the same feel for the space and rhythm of lettering. Wolpe was Faber’s head of design for more than forty years and he is best remembered for his striking calligraphic paperback covers for them.

The History Today Trustees Award Bowl

The History Today Trustees Award Bowl

In addition to the Buildings of England roundels, Wolpe drew the handsome Pelican that adorns the first editions of the Pelican History of Art and designed jackets for some of the King Penguin series of which Pevsner was editor. There’s a pleasing symmetry in the knowledge that Pevsner must have valued and enjoyed Wolpe’s work just as the Pevsner team appreciate his daughter’s sixty years later.

Article by Sally Salvesen

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Buildings of England: Nottingamshire. 1st Edition

Buildings of England: Nottingamshire. 1st Edition

Durham knocker

Durham Roundel

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  • February 14, 2013

    Charles Freeman

    As the proud owner of the first,1961, edition of Pevsner’s Suffolk, bought when I was a schoolboy biking around Suffolk churches in the 1960s and used even this week on a church crawl with friends, i was fascinated to learn about the Wolpe roundels. Suffolk has an M with a crown over it, -relating to the Mary Tudor who was buried in St. James, Bury St, Edmunds in 1533??Congratulations to Yale for keeping this series going for another generation.

  • February 14, 2013

    Charles Freeman

    P.S. Pedant’s corner. I assume that by now you have corrected Pevsner when he says that this Mary Tudor was the daughter of Henry VIII, when in fact, she was the second daughter of Henry VII and so Henry VIII’s sister!

    • February 14, 2013

      James Mackay

      A pedant responds:

      It was St Mary’s, not St James’, Bury, in which Mary Tudor was buried in 1533. She is correctly the sister, not daughter, of Henry VIII, in the second (1974) edition of Suffolk, revised by Enid Radcliffe.

      Deborah Hopson-Wolpe’s work is delightful, and the prize that it forms is very well-deserved.

      JM

      • February 14, 2013

        Charles Freeman

        Thanks, James. I work so hard at being pedantic and here I failed. The two churches are, of course, next to each other and St. James is just coming up to its centenary as a cathedral, I think.

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