Mason and Dixon

Mason and Dixon

Henry Holt & Co., New York, New York, 1997


I wanted, above all, to comply with the author’s wishes that the jacket design be consistent, typographically and stylistically, with the design styles of the eighteenth century, the time period in which the novel is set. After toying with the idea of finding an antique letterpress to set the type, I found a book in an antiquarian bookstore and scanned in a page of the eleven point text. I then created the title words from the letters on the scanned page, enlarging each letter so much that the letters became irregular and rough, and the vague shadows of the hot press type became visible. The paper fiber, blown up so many thousands of times, created a kind of mottled peach effect, which became the background color and texture. Originally, I was going to use the type in a more traditional way, all centered on the front jacket, with some kind of map or graphic element depicting the Mason Dixon line, but as I worked on the letterforms, they seemed so beautiful that I almost couldn’t bear to make them small again, to confine them to that 6 x 9 rectangular format of a book cover. I designed it so that they could be as large as possible within the format of an entire jacket, using all the available space allowed from the back and spine and front put together, and even then it didn’t quite fit so I made it larger still, bleeding off the page. I was hoping that it would feel as if we had actually taken an old newspaper from that time period, with the headline of Mason & Dixon, and wrapped it around the book. I was so into that concept that I couldn’t figure out how to integrate the author’s name (the single most important thing about this book, after all!) into the front jacket design without it seeming anachronistic. I kind of liked the idea of those words glaring out at the consumer in a bookstore, “son & xon,” without any further explanation. But of course this was entirely unrealistic, in terms of sales and marketing, so the acetate overlay was the perfect solution. It put the vital information over the jacket front and spine without actually impinging on the paper underneath, and it echoed what they do to old books in antique bookstores, which seemed right in the context of what we wanted to achieve.

Collections: 50 Books | 50 Covers of 1997
Discipline: Book design
Format: Book cover


Design firm
Henry Holt & Co.
Creative director
Raquel Jaramillo
Thomas Pynchon
Unknown (Possibly Caslon)
Phoenix Color Corp.
70# Champion Linen Text Soft White
Henry Holt & Co.