The Philips Favourite Series was launched in Holland in 1956. Classical sleeves were often very dull until in 1954 Philips decided to commission a new series of sleeves to repackage earlier recordings at a cheaper price. Margreet Korsman at Philips asked noted commercial photographer Paul Huf to do the covers and the brief directed him to use the same model for all the sleeves. He’d worked with British born model Ann Pickford and chose her for the covers.
Typography was entrusted to Herry van Borssum Waalkes at a local design agency. In order not to spoil the covers, Herry often cut text down and in some cases left it off altogether.
At the launch, Huf and Pickford were guests of honour. Ann Pickford became so well known through press coverage of her work on the sleeves that a tribute single called The Cover Cat was issued in Holland! As far as I can see Ann was the first proper cover star and probably appeared on more record sleeves than anyone else – ever. The covers turned out to be the most expensive Philips had ever produced. Initial sales were very good but dealer and music critics reaction was hostile. “If Philips is of the opinion that the packaging will also play an important role in the sales of serious gramophone records, then I recommend printing a thrilling serial story on the back, or a puzzle with cash prizes,” wrote one.
The albums were also sold in the UK and other countries in the same sleeves albeit with changes to the type and catalogue numbers.
The series was launched with 12 albums and Huf did over 50 in total. It fizzled out after a couple of years despite good sales, due to lack of continued support, but the sleeves have since become very collectable, and recognised as paving the way for the use of colour photography as well as being some of the best record covers ever designed. After the series ended, some unused Huf photographs were used on other albums by Philips. An exhibition of the sleeves was held in Holland to mark Huf’s 75th birthday and Philips reissued some of the covers on CDs in 1999. Huf died on Jan 10. 2002.
Columbia Symphony Orchestra – A Twilight Concert
Philips Favourite Series SBL5204 (Holland S04601L) : 1956 Photograph : Paul Huf / Model : Ann Pickford / Design : van Borssum
The model was lit with blue light to give the twilight effect, the piece of bark was intended to unsettle the viewer, while the “moon” was actually a vinyl album set spinning during the exposure!
Jean Fournet conducts – Ballet Music
Philips Favourite Series SBL5203 (Holland S04013L) : 1956 Photograph : Paul Huf / Model : Ann Pickford / Design : van Borssum
Using just simple props, and clothes from the firm of Serne, notice how the type is all kept to the lower half of the sleeve to retain the balance. At the time most labels would have splashed it across the top. Shops disliked the designs as they encouraged people to pull te albums out of the racks to see what the music was.
Hague Philharmonic – Beethoven Violin Concerto
Philips Favourite Series : Holland S04000L : 1956 Photograph : Paul Huf / Model : Ann Pickford / Design : van Borssum
The very first release. Using a 5by 4 camera, Huf photographed the violin against white, then photographed Pickford in close up on the same sheet of film to acheive the effect here. This is a Dutch original, note the more subtle way the logo is featured compared to the UK editions.
Hague Philharmonic – Dohnanyi / Rachmaninov
Philips Favourite Series : SBL5210 (Holland S04022L) : 1956 Photograph : Paul Huf / Model : Ann Pickford / Design : van Borssum
Variations on a Nursery Song inspired the inclusion of several toys amongst the props, including a jointed wooden elephant which Huf had when he was a child. A simple wallpaper design featuring donkeys and deer carries the nursery theme through.
New York Philharmonic/Philadelphia Orchestra – Paganini/Saint Saens
Philips Favourite Series : SBL5219 (Holland S04620L) : 1956 Photograph : Paul Huf / Model : Ann Pickford / Design : van Borssum
This image was achieved by another double exposure on a large plate camera. The green light is actually a bengal match waved around during a long exposure. Ann was then photographed onto the same piece of film. This was done a number of times to provide a selection to chose from. There were no Polaroid film backs in those days.
Andre Kostelanetz orchestra – Swan Lake
Philips Favourite Series : SBL5212 (Holland S04612L) : 1956 Photograph : Paul Huf / Model : Ann Pickford / Design : van Borssum
For this image, three further models were employed. Huf tried a number of shots with them and Pickford together, but in the end he took one plate of the three dancers, a second close up of Pickford, and then overlaid the two to produce the final image
The Philadelphia Orchestra – Tchaikovsky
Philips Favourite Series : SBL5229 (Holland S04642L) : 1956 Photograph : Paul Huf / Model : Ann Pickford / Design : van Borssum
Again a double exposure effect, using an extreme close up of Ann Pickford’s face, and shooting it onto a previously exposed film with violin bows on. This cover – the last but one in the series – also reveals the lettering on the front to be a separate overprint in white ink. Doing this enabled the company to produce a long run of the sleeves, but adjust the titles for the different languages where necessary by overprinting.
New York Philharmonic Orchestra – Tchaikovsky
Philips Favourite Series : SBL5205 (Holland S04605L) : 1956 Photograph : Paul Huf / Model : Ann Pickford / Design : van Borssum
A more straightforward photograph, but striking nevertheless. Huf strove to give the impression of Tchaikovsky’s patroness, Nadezhda von Meck. The heavy veil and tree branches give the effect of coral. Once more the image left no room for the titles at the top, and these had to be squeezed into the bottom part of the cover.
The Philadelphia Orchestra – Scheherazade
Philips Favourite Series : Holland S04628L : 1956 Photograph : Paul Huf / Model : Ann Pickford / Design : van Borssum
As Huf and the designer rightly surmised, this cover image was so strong it didn’t really need additional text – although it was a daring move at the time and even today labels would be very reluctant to issue a cover like this without at least a sticker on. The props were loaned from local antique dealers, the peacock came from Artis Zoo.
Although we’ve worked direct from original sleeves for clarity, a large format paperback devoted to Huf’s work on the Philips series was issued in Holland in 1999, showing every one of the fifty two covers. I have recently been contacted by Ann’s sister, who says she is going to talk to her and see if she will do an interview for us.