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13 Jun 2022

Talwin Morris

Written by Emma Hamilton, Visitor Services Assistant
Shelves and shelves of leather-bound books fill a bookcase wall. The book spines nearly all feature decorative elements in the 'Glasgow Style' from the early 20th century.
Talwin Morris books in the Hill House library
Talwin Morris was an architect and designer, and his work can be admired at the Hill House alongside the designs of his contemporaries Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh.

Upon entering the Hill House, one of the first rooms to greet you is Walter Blackie’s personal sanctuary: the library. It is not only the beauty of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s interior design scheme that will encourage you to linger here a little longer but also the stunning collection of books. The library is home to an array of beautiful Blackie & Son (and their subsidiary company The Gresham Publishing Co) books.

The end of the 19th century was a time of great change and debate in the world of book cover design, something that did not pass by Blackie & Son. Development of machinery in the 1820s had made possible cloth binding and the mass production of books, which in turn led to many exciting discussions about book cover designs. Artists and designers began considering the book as a designed object, questioning a book cover’s function and debating whether the cover should reflect a book’s contents.

The type of design was another key consideration. There were three main categories of design at this time: pictorial; evocative or symbolic; and decorative and ornamental. This all led to a rise in more artistic and personalised design schemes, with book covers featuring in articles and art & design exhibitions.

Three books, all with decorative blue covers, are arranged on a cream sofa in the Hill House. Behind the books, on the back panel of the sofa, are stencilled pink Glasgow rose designs, typical of Mackintosh.
A range of decorative book cover designs at the Hill House

Many of the books in the Hill House library were designed by Talwin Morris, who was the head of Blackie & Son’s Art Department from 1893–1909. Below is how his job was advertised:

“Art Manager wanted for a publishing house in Scotland: should be a competent draughtsman, well versed in art matters, of some taste in literature, fitted to take charge of the scheming and production of book illustrations and decorations, and able to carry on the correspondence connected therewith – Apply, by letter only, stating age, particulars of qualifications and salary required to R.B. care of Blackie and Son Limited, 17, Stanhope-street, Glasgow.”
Blackie & Son advertisement, February 1893

Like Mackintosh, Morris was a trained architect. He first came to graphic design in 1891 when he took a job as an art sub-editor for the magazine Black & White. Morris took a modern approach to his book cover designs; his designs extended the influence and reach of the Glasgow Style. He used decorative and symbolic elements in his designs rather than the typical pictorial style of the time. His designs were tailored to their markets, and it was his designs for The Gresham Publishing Company that were the most elaborate. Here, his motifs were carefully chosen, each referencing the contents of the book.

Morris also produced a wide range of designs that could be repeated in different colourways across different series. Patterns were created using debossing, a process that involves pressing inked metal plates onto the cover.

Many of his designs are unsigned; however, he did develop and occasionally use two different forms of signature. The first is an elongated TM monogram. The second is rather unusual and has been described as taking its inspiration from a stylised interpretation of Morse code – it consists of two gold dots followed by a gap and then a single gold dot (·· ·). For those of us familiar with Morse code, we know that this is actually Morse code for ‘I E’, as ‘T M’ would be represented by a single dash followed by a gap and 2 dashes (– – –). Talwin Morris also worked across other art forms, excelling in metalwork.

A metal candle holder is mounted on a wooden wall panel. The candlesticks are held at the bottom, to illuminate the design of a peacock with a bright green jewel at the centre.
The beautiful peacock sconce in our hallway, which Talwin Morris designed for Walter Blackie and the Hill House itself.

Did you know that Talwin Morris was the man who introduced Walter Blackie to Charles Rennie Mackintosh? Discover more about the world of book cover design, art and architecture by visiting the Hill House today!

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