The best way to navigate 50 Watts is to click about randomly until you find God or go insane.

50 Watts is a massive online catalog of illustration and book cover design collected and curated by Will Schofield.  A self-professed bibliomaniac, Schofield works at a small independent publishing house in Philadelphia and plows the rest of his time into amassing books– some very rare, many with strange and wonderful covers. 

50 Watts started out as a book blog called A Journey Round My Skull, where Schofield would review and recommend titles he liked. The blog ran from 2007-2011, and was then reincarnated as 50 Watts, which focuses on the most popular aspect of the original blog: pictures of cover art and illustrations.

Schofield’s personal reading taste has resulted in a truly fascinating bent toward Eastern European titles on 50 Watts, and his habit of only purchasing cheap, mass market editions second-hand means that the site regularly features rare covers and illustrations from titles that never sold out of tiny initial print runs.

Schofield also has an uncanny eye for design, and his collections include covers from publishers and imprints like New Directions, Doubleday Anchor, Ace, and the Time Reading Program, and graphics from designers like Paul Rand and Milton Glaser, and illustrators like Edward Gorey, among many others.

There is no core organizing principle at work on the site– hence the simultaneously vexing and intriguing advice found on the Navigate page: “The best way to navigate 50 Watts is to click about randomly until you find God or go insane.” Despite this claim to complete chaos, Schofield’s posts do tend to group themselves into odd and interesting categories, and the site is thoroughly searchable by tags that relate to publishers, artists, designers, countries, and subjects like “French Kids’ Books.”

A few entry points into the collection:

Serendipity.

  • As Schofield suggests, you can simply click things that look interesting and see where they lead.  Clicking on the “Ukrainian Space Invaders” post pictured above led me from the home page to all of 50 Watts’ entries tagged “Ukraine,” where I landed on a series of ghostly watercolors by Alexandr Mychajlow for Fairytales of Foreign Writers.  Begin at the home page, which features recent posts, or start with the Tumblr-like collage of clickable images on the Image Archive page, which refreshes with a random selection of eye candy each time you visit.

Collections.

  •  The Navigate page archives posts by month and organizes the massive 50 Watts collection into two main sub collections which offer an interesting entry into the endless sprawl of images.  Groupings organizes posts around recurring themes, like “Artist’s Books,” “Children’s Books,” and “Science Fiction;” Location allows you to browse 50 Watts images based on the country of origin.  There are also links to 50 Watts’ Greatest Hits– the posts that have gotten the most attention– and Schofield’s Personal Favorites.

Search.  

  • Use the search box, located on the bottom right of each page, to find images and posts.  You can search for specific authors, publishers, or designers to see if they are represented on 50 Watts, or type in keywords (try “children” or “animals“) to generate a page full of images that depict a particular subject.

Though 50 Watts may be a nightmare for anyone on the hunt for something specific, the inherent serendipity of searching a collection organized in such an idiosyncratic manner is refreshing, surprising, and downright fun. In addition, there is a wonderful social cataloging dynamic on the site; Schofield often asks his crowd of readers to help identify unknown artists, dates, and origins of favorite illustrations from offbeat titles.

Want more?  

We highly recommend following 50 Watts on Twitter (@50WattsDotCom)  for updates and pictures from Will Schofield’s many collections.

Schofield also resurrected A Journey Round My Skull as a personal blog, and it’s worth a look for more illustrations, guest posts, and commentary.

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