This beautiful creature, a Borzoi, or Russian wolfhound, was ambling along the lake in Wingra Park yesterday. Its namesake is familiar to book lovers around the world.
Afred A. Knopf brought branding to 20th century American book publishing with the "Borzoi Book" when he and his wife Blanche started their publishing company in 1915. The Borzoi colophon -- which appeared in many different versions by many different artists -- came to be known as synonymous with elegance, refinement and quality. The idea of using a Russian wolfhound as a colophon came from co-founder Blanche Knopf, although her affection for the dog breed didn't last nearly as long as the trademark.
It comes as no surprise that a Borzoi book published by the house of Knopf would resemble the personalities and preserve the canon of its founders, Alfred A. and Blanche Wolf Knopf. In fact, Blanche, fond of the Russian wolfhounds’ aesthetic look, chose the Borzoi as the publishing house’s legendary colophon. Ironically, Blanche later owned a pair of borzois and grew to despise them, wishing she had chosen another dog for the Knopf imprint.The Borzoi was a shrewd choice for a young publishing company that first built it's reputation by publishing many Russian and European authors then not widely published in the U.S. Knopf was a real innovator in how he used design as a marketing tool.
From the very beginning we have frequently been asked the meaning of the word "Borzoi" and what it has to do with books. When I started in business the publisher I admired most was London's William Heinemann, and the sign of a Heinemann book was a windmill, drawn for him, I think, by William Nicholson. Since a windmill obviously had nothing to do with books, I saw no reason why we could not adopt the Borzoi as our mark. We had an alliterative trademark that was calculated to provoke curiosity. Knopf is a difficult name for many people to pronounce, and I felt there might be an advantage in having two strings, so to speak, to the bow of our imprint. Now everyone in the trade knows how few people ever remember the name of the publisher of any book. I think we have been more successful than any of our contemporaries in breaking down this ignorance.Design can be a brilliant means of marketing a brand, but it's not easy. If it were, individuals like Alfred Knopf -- and Steve Jobs -- wouldn't be so rare.