Alex Steinweiss

Rather embarrassingly, here’s yet another seminal graphic designer whose name was unknown to me until I read his obituary over the weekend, whilst sitting in the sun at the Big Chill…

Alex Steinweiss (who died on 17th July aged 94) is generally accepted as the first person to have the simple, yet brilliant idea of putting records into a cardboard sleeve with artwork on and as a consequence pioneered the concept of the designed LP cover at a time when records still came in brown paper sleeves and were played at 78rpm.

During the mid to late 1930’s Steinweiss was working in the advertising department for Columbia Records when he suggested that putting something visually more attractive and distinguishing on the outside sleeve of the company’s 78’s might help them sell more…

His first attempt in 1938 was the rather excellent design above which did indeed lead to a dramatic increase in sales. Consequently Steinweiss became Columbia’s first Art Director (at the age of 22 no less) and never looked back, being involved in the design of upwards of 2500 sleeves, until his retirement to concentrate on painting in the early 1970’s.

Although the idea of having cover art was immediately recognised as being “a game changer”, it wasn’t until 1948 when Columbia Records introduced the world to the new higher quality, lower priced vinyl records, playing at 331/3, that the whole record buying thing really took off.

Steinweiss was also instrumental in designing and patenting what became the industry standard cardboard packaging template, although as an employee of Columbia he had to sign over the patent rights and never saw the financial benefits that this could undoubtedly have brought him.

There is an in-depth site of his work here, and an interesting Blog here if you’re interested but I’ll finish with a small selection of some of his wonderful covers….

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