Romek Marber, graphic designer : records

Scope and Content

Contains: book design - Penguin (1961 - 2005); book design Nicholson's Guides (1966 - ca.1977); Magazine covers and illustration; Misc. graphic design (1957 - 1970).

Administrative / Biographical History

Romek Marber was born in Poland on 25 October 1925. Born in Poland in 1925, as a teenager Marber was deported to the Bochnia ghetto in 1939. Three years later, he was saved from being transported to the Belzec death camp by the actions of a sergeant Kurzbach, the commander of the forced-labour workshop in the town. Marber arrived in the UK in 1946, reuniting with his father and brother, and studied Commercial Art at St Martins in the early 1950s, before attending the Royal College of Art in 1953.

In 1961, impressed by Marber’s covers for The Economist, Penguin’s then art director Germano Facetti commissioned him to design covers for Simeon Potter’s Our Language and Language in the Modern World. He then asked Marber to propose a new cover approach for the Penguin Crime series. Derek Birdsall and John Sewell (who died in 1981) were also asked to make proposals. Marber’s solution was accepted and he went on to design dozens of crime fiction covers. Marber devised a grid pattern (now referred to as the ‘Marber Grid’) where, essentially, the typography occupied one third of the cover and the illustration the remaining two thirds. Initially, applied to just the Crime Series, this layout was later adopted and applied to the majority of Penguin’s other lines. Seen as a series, these emerge as one of the outstanding achievements of British book cover design. Marber’s basic design was so successful that Facetti applied it, effectively unchanged, to the blue Pelicans and to the orange covers of Penguin fiction. Eventually Marber’s layout became the standard layout for the entire range of Penguin paperbacks.

Marber decided to retain green as the series colour, though he chose a fresher shade, and he kept the horizontal banding. The image occupies just over two-thirds of the space, while the title section at the top is divided into three bands carrying colophon / series name / price, the title and the author’s name, with the type ranged left. Marber planned to use white at the top of the cover, referring to the central white title panel on Edward Young’s design, before introducing all-green covers at a later date. In practice, though, both white-topped and all-green covers were published from 1961 until what is probably Marber’s final crime cover, for Ellery Queen’s The Scarlet Letters, in 1965. In either case, the author’s name is in white reversed out of green. Rules are used as needed to divide the bands. Marber chose the sans serif Standard (Akzidenz Grotesk), to preserve continuity with the earlier use of Gill. Setting the titles in all-lowercase after the initial cap, except for proper nouns, added to the books’ modernity. Marber was conscious of the Swiss Style, to which his typography is clearly indebted, but a visit to Switzerland, he says, ‘put me off Swiss design slightly’. He felt that the imposition of Swiss grids led to a lack of vitality.

Romek Marber has made a considerable contribution to British design, producing graphic work for a range of organisations including Penguin Books, The Economist, New Society, The Observer Magazine, Town and Queen magazines, Nicholson’s London Guides, BBC TV, Columbia Pictures and London Planetarium.

Access Information

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Acquisition Information

Given by Romek Marber, 2011.

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Corporate Names