“What a year to be illustrating! Rocket science was just being taken seriously, and rock and roll had arrived.” So recalls Harold Coop, who created the cover of the 1957 Capping Book. This annual publication started out in 1926 and soon became an important feature of capping. It included a list of the graduates and the programme of the capping show, but the main appeal lay in the rest of its contents, which consisted of cartoons, comic verse and various satirical articles, running to a total of 64 pages. There were also advertisements for many local firms, with ads especially created in a suitably comic tone. Students sold copies to the public as a fundraiser and it became a very popular publication, with a print run in the tens of thousand in the 1960s.
A good cover was of course critical to sales, and the Capping Book editors clearly went to considerable trouble to ensure they had something colourful, witty and topical to help sales. Often they employed a commercial artist for the job. For instance, the 1929 cover, featuring a stylish group of young men and women perusing the Capping Book, was by Peter McIntyre. McIntyre, then still in his teens, would become a very well-known New Zealand artist; he studied briefly at the University of Otago in the 1930s. Some 1930s covers were drawn by Russell Clark, then employed as an illustrator for Dunedin publishing firm McIndoe, and later also a respected sculptor. Marguerite Cotton, who drew the 1939 cover of a colourful Michael Joseph Savage clutching a “social security” diploma, boasted a Diploma of Fine Arts. Political leaders – national and international – often featured on covers of the late 1930s and early 1940s; earlier and later covers were more likely to highlight student life.
But not all Capping Book covers were drawn by professionals: all three featured on this post were the work of Otago medical students. Harold Coop, who drew the 1957 cover, graduated in medicine in 1958. He got the illustrating job because others were impressed with the cover he had drawn previously for the medical student publication, Digest. During a long medical career, specialising in ophthalmology, he continued his interest in art; his largest public work is an illuminated entrance mural at the Auckland School of Medicine. From an earlier generation of medical students come some of the 1930s covers. John Hinds’s health science connection is evident in his choice of a skull as subject. He graduated from Otago in 1937, then became a specialist chest physician. Denis Rogers, who graduated in 1939, drew the 1937 cover; he later became well known as mayor of Hamilton. Of course, it wasn’t only medical students who could draw: the 1946 and 1947 covers were both by Pam Sinclair, an Otago zoology student.
In the early 1980s the Capping Book and its cover became part of a major dispute, reflecting the battle between conservative and radical factions on campus. Some students (and others) were unhappy with the racist and sexist humour which had pervaded the publication for many years …. but that’s a story for another time.