‘Ridiculous. A typographical mishmash. What on earth’s going on?’ The panel were briefly at a loss when they first saw the cover of 100 Topstukken, Honderd Verhalen, a catalogue of a hundred top pieces in the Gallo-Roman Museum in Tongeren, Belgian Limburg. Certainly the cover betrays little of the actual contents. A deliberate move, then, perhaps. But on one point the verdict was merciless: ‘That lettering is bonkers.’
And yet, despite that diabolical cover, the book made it through to the final selection. Why? Because the actual ‘catalogue’ of a hundred top pieces from the museum’s collection has been attractively and well done. It’s a bold move on the part of the museum to aim at a younger audience, because with the enlarged images of the museum pieces ‘you get a really good sense of the tactile quality of the archaeological objects on display.’ Put more pithily: it’s just this kind of old stuff that draws people in. The material comes closer and in so doing becomes more intriguing. And what about that fluorescent red/orange lettering? A bit frivolous, perhaps, but on some pages it works well. The slipcase has been hand-made entirely from single hand-cut boards. Making the slipcase in this labour-intensive and highly skilled way is the only way to ensure brutally sharp edges at precisely ninety degrees. For the rest everything is nicely consistent in a contemporary typographical idiom. Also effective are the black edges to the book block.
Not all panel members agreed, but after animated discussion and weighing the balance against the other candidates, 100 Topstukken, Honderd Verhalen could take its place as one of The Best Designed Books of Holland and Flanders 2015. This is no mere diversion, or a display of provincial ostentation: it is dry material that has been rendered accessible with boldness and vision.