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The Book of Signs (Dover Pictorial Archive) Paperback – June 1, 1955


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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

This unusual collection of primitive and medieval symbols provides one of the most fertile single sources of decorative ideas available today. It is also a graphic history of the development of written communication and offers a singular insight into the psychology of the primitive mind.
The Book of Signs contains 493 classified and documented illustrations, collected, drawn, and explained by the celebrated typographer Rudolf Koch. Divided into 14 different categories, it includes General Signs, The Cross, Monogram of Christ, Other Christian Signs, Monograms of Medieval Church and State Leaders, Stone Masons' Signs, The Four Elements, Astronomical Signs, Astrological Signs, Botanical Signs, Chemical Signs, House and Holding Marks, Miscellany, and Runes.
"Provides the contemporary artist with a rich design vocabulary on which to improvise."—Art in Focus.
"An inspiration to graphic artists everywhere."—Graphis.
"An artistic and typographical achievement of considerable beauty and worth."—Psychiatric Quarterly.
Unabridged republication of the English translation originally published by the First Edition Club of London, 1930.
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Product Details

  • Series: Dover Pictorial Archive
  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications (June 1, 1955)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0486201627
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486201627
  • Product Dimensions: 0.2 x 6 x 6.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #174,251 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Memphis on May 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is, as its title suggests, an expansive collection of pictoral signs primarily from European sources. The signs are beautifully reproduced, but if you are looking for comprehensive genealogies of the signifiers, you should probably look elsewhere. This book has 493 well-reproduced signs, but their histories are minimally documented without any source/ primary documentation of their origins. The signs are described in short, declarative sentences which readers curious about the meaning of the signs might find discomforting. The research here is not without merit or credibility, but the book is for readers interested in signs for their visual grandeur rather than their significance. An interesting and affordable introduction to signs.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By E. Fegley on July 7, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is a well illustrated book on symbols. I would not call it an essential book for research purposes but it is a nice addition to the library. Some of the symbology is redundant (the furca is illustrated at least 3 times within the book) and I don't find all the explanations agreeable with other resources.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 22, 2002
Format: Textbook Binding
Koch was a type setter with qualifications in Theology.
Primarily the works value is asthetic, I find it worth owning as a cheap collectable addition to my shelf.
Brief histories of each sign have a slight Christian slant, although not over bearing.
Illustrations are made from beautiful wood cuts and the type is of his own design.
Besides peeking the interests of occultist and broad minded Christians it is considered of value by graphic artists.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By rareoopdvds VINE VOICE on November 22, 2000
Format: Paperback
Rudolph Kock, graphic designer, typesetter and bookbinder put together these some 400+ signs along with a good historical capsule along each symbol. I found it to be useful when looking up a symbol and to understand some aspect of the sign, although not entirely in full, but a brief understanding of its roots. While not every sign of occultism is assimulated in this book, there is still plenty for one to be satisfied with. Most of the signs are from Early Christian traditions and those that have stemmed from that religion. Orginally these designs were woodcuts by Frik Kredel, Offenbach and Main. The font used to print in the book was created by Koch himself known as magere deutsche type. Originally published in 1930, this Dover edition is worth every penny, for the artist and the occultist.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J. Bedwell on March 20, 2008
Format: Paperback
Although it seems the author can just attribute nearly any sign to some sort of christian meaning it is a pretty decent book. I was expecting something more along occult lines but it does have some intresting symbols. Don't believe everything you read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Andy on December 18, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"The Book of Signs" is an illustration-rich collection of Byzantine, medieval and related European symbols. The Dover Publications edition is a clean softcover edition of the work which is printed in the author Rudolf Koch's "magere deutsche" typeface (a Gothic / old-style German typeface similar to those used in Germany in the 19th century and earlier).

Useful to the medievalist, the occultist as well as the fantasy roleplayer, the collection includes nearly 500 different symbols collected in 14 chapters. Symbols include Christian, astrological, botanical, and chemical ones from the Byzantine and European traditions; personal and family signs such as early monograms, stonemason's signs and armorial signs; and the Norse runes. The signs themselves are woodcuts, which combined with the older style Germanic typeface give the book a distinctive look. Chapters include a short introduction and most signs include a short description.

The book's strength lies in its wide range of medieval symbols and its evocative visual look (woodcut symbols and German typeface). As a research tool it has limited utility, but for its graphic appearance it is a good choice for the layman. On a side note for AD&D gamers and World of Greyhawk enthusiasts, this work was used as inspiration by Gary Gygax for many of the symbols presented in the World of Greyhawk folio and 1983 boxed set.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Trelligan on November 28, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There are plenty of symbols included, they are organized according to shape and complexity, and there are meanings attached.

But the meanings are the author's alone, have little relevance to other sources and there are no sources cited - these are the author's own ideas and don't have much relevance outside.

The cons didn't matter much to me since I wanted it for design ideas, but anyone interested in the traditional meaning of symbols should look elsewhere.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mitchell R. Russell on December 6, 2009
Format: Paperback
Outstanding in scope but inaccurate in places. For example, the pictoral representation of the Svastika is actually a Sauvastika. The difference is slight from a pictoral sense but major in meaning. A Sauvastika is a sign for magic, night, and destiny while the Svastika is a sign for prosperity, and good fortune. From a pictoral standpoint the difference is, a Svastika is a clockwise swirl like two letter s while the Sauvastika is counterclockwise like two letter z. Personally I believe that continuing research into signs remains important if nothing but to prevent people like Adolf Hitler hijacking good luck, prosperity and religous symbols. I loved this book and on a basic level it covers a wide range of symbols and meanings. In fact if it weren't for slight inaccuracies I would have given it all 5 stars.
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