Monday, December 21, 2009

Victor Kalin and the Merrill Company

Writing in Illustration Magazine #22 about her first visit to the long-shuttered Merrill Company warehouse, Jean Woodcock describes the fascinating scene: "We had no idea what awaited us inside. What we saw was overwhelming! Stacked in no order, almost to the ceiling, were thousands of books. There was hardly space to walk down the aisles."

"There were some large flat filing cabinets, and flat upon flat where the artwork was placed. Each piece was wrapped in butcher paper and labeled with the title, year, and artist - by first initial and last name. After I purchased the company, I discovered there were also brass printing plates for her catalogs; a large folder on every published book containing everything from its beginning to end; files of artists and illustrators; books containing the copyrights; company meeting books, and record books of everything produced; files and files of tearsheets with the artists' names indicated; and so on. As it turned out there were over 3,000 cartons alone, not counting everything else."

Above, two scans of original Merrill colouring book cover art by Victor Kalin. They were among the contents Jeanie found after her purchase of the company. The scan at top is courtesy of

According to Walt Reed's Illustrator in America, Victor Kalin was born in Belleville, Kansas in 1919. That would have made him around 26 or 27 years old when he did the two pieces below for Liberty magazine.

Reed writes, "[Kalin's] first illustrations were done for The American Weekly but for many years the majority of his pictures were painted for paperback book covers."

He continues, "Unlike many artists who develop a strong, easily identifiable technique, [Victor Kalin] was so interested in experimentation that his work looked continually new."

Certainly these three examples, found on Flickr, confirm that statement. I was amazed to see how much Kalin's work had evolved in a relatively short span of time. The work at the top of this post is from the late '40s to early '50s while these covers are from around 1957 to 1960. Walt Reed write that "in the competitive field of illustrating for paperback book covers, where the drive is always to look as new as possible, this was an ideal qualification."

While searching for additional info on the Internet I stumbled upon a blog where Kalin's daughter Rebecca left a message and a nice quote that makes a fitting conclusion to this post:

“Vic died 11/24/91... he was witty, talented, always cheerful, and an absolute angel.”

*Original art dealer Mitch Itkowitz has a new catalogue of original Merrill cover paintings available from his website, There are also about twenty images from the catalogue on the website.

* Many thanks to Jean Woodcock and to Mitch for the scans at the top of today's post.

* My Victor Kalin Flickr set.


  1. Wow, lovely stuff. I really enjoy the loose scrubby line quality and abstract use of color combined with the controlled modeling of the figures on the book cover art.

  2. Charlie Allen11:12 PM

    Great stuff....thanks.

  3. I always liked his paperback covers.

  4. I really love his works. It is so unfortunate that he did not get the recognition he deserves to get. I really hope someone will put a website with his works and bio up. Also, I think he illustrated the cover for "Love Supreme" Album by the great John Coltrane.

  5. Yes! To see more Victor Kalin artwork go to: and

  6. Lisa Clarke11:39 AM

    He did a wonderful portrait of my mother in the 50s which we all still enjoy.