11 beautiful vintage book covers

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In The illustrated jacket, 1920-1970, Martin Salisbury, Professor of Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art, discusses the lives and work of over 50 artists and illustrators who created some of the most enduring book covers of the century, and includes a selection of their work. Salisbury picks 11 of his favorite covers from the era.

The humble dust jacket seems to divide opinion. Some people find this boring and immediately throw it out of a newly purchased hardcover book. Others, like one of my fellow illustration professors at the Cambridge School of Art, carefully remove them and put them in a drawer to carefully protect them from damage. The legendary Brian Cook designed the beautiful, quintessentially English jackets for Batsford tour guides in the 1940s and 1950s, which are now highly sought after. But it is said that personal copies of Cook’s books would be immediately stripped of their dust jackets before taking their place on his shelves. There is also disagreement over whether a jacket is really an integral part of a book or just a fleeting “add-on”. What is indisputable, however, is that, for collectors, the presence of a dust jacket on a rare original edition considerably increases its value. The paucity of surviving dust jackets on many important first editions speaks both to the poor quality of some papers in times of economic depression and to the perceived dispensable nature of the dust jacket.

My interest in the subject has grown over the years. It all started working as a practitioner, with little knowledge of the history and evolution of the jacket. As a young freelance illustrator, fresh out of art school, I was sometimes lucky enough to be tasked with designing a jacket myself. Such an order was a kind of “Grail” for the illustrator in terms of professional visibility. I will always remember the delight of walking around London’s Covent Garden and seeing a shop window filled from top to bottom with an elaborate display of copies of a recently published novel adorned with my works (thanks to the quality writing, rather than my somewhat pedestrian design, it became a best-seller).

In writing The illustrated jacket, 1920-1970, I have endeavored to highlight the many wonderful artists whose creations found their way into libraries in the mid-century, reflecting the evolution of art movements of the time.

Artist: Paul Nash

Paths to Glory by Richard Aldington (Chatto & Windus, 1930)

188 x 125 mm, 7 ⅜ x 5 in.

Painter and war artist Paul Nash (UK, 1889-1946) produced a small amount of commercial illustration and design work, including this striking dust jacket for Aldington’s Thirteen Stories of the First World War.

© Paul Nash, from the Martin Salisbury collection, photography Simon Pask

Artist: Ancona

The night flower by Walter C. Butler (The Macaulay Company, 1936)

195 x 130 mm, 7 ¾ x 5 ⅛ in.

The dramatic use of light and dark by “Ancona” (USA) immediately conveys the information that this is a detective novel (one of only two written by Frederick Faust under this pseudonym) and echoes the film noir genre of the time.

© “Ancona” (Edward D’Ancona), from the collection of Martin Salisbury, photography Simon Pask

Artist: NC Wyeth

Glory of the Seas by Agnes Danforth Hewes (Cassell, 1935)

190 x 125 mm, 7 ½ x 5 in.

N. C. Wyeth’s image for this account of a young Boston shipping clerk’s desire to go to California to find gold was first used in Alfred A. Knopf’s 1933 edition. The depth of Wyeth’s pictorial understanding of land and seascape meant he was in high demand to illustrate historical and nautical drama.

© NC Wyeth, from the collection of Martin Salisbury, photography Simon Pask

Artist: Unknown Artist

The loser takes it all by Graham Greene (Heinemann, 1955)

190 x 125 mm, 7 ½ x 5 in.

The “Stevens” signature is just visible on this jacket design for Greene’s short story. The glamor of its Monte Carlo setting is evoked by the artist’s elegant use of the graphic idioms of the time.

© “Stevens”, from the Martin Salisbury collection, photography Simon Pask

Artist: Eric Fraser

Drugs and the mind by Robert S. de Ropp (Science Book Club, 1957)

204 x 134 mm, 8 x 5 ¼ in.

The jacket is one of Fraser’s most original designs. Dr. de Ropp’s first book introduced readers to the joys and mental tortures of ancient herbs and modern drugs.

Courtesy of the Fraser family

Artist: Milton Glaser

The Kool-Aid Electric Acid Test by Tom Wolfe (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968)

216 x 140 mm, 8 ½ x 5 ½ in.

It’s hard to imagine a more fitting choice than Glaser for the jacket design of Tom Wolfe’s account of the late 1960s psychedelic drug culture through the experiments of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters.

Reproduced courtesy of Milton Glaser Studio, Collection of Mark Terry/Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC www.dustjackets.com

Artist: Aubrey Hammond

Metropolis by Thea von Harbou (Readers Library, 1927)

169 x 106 mm, 6 ⅝ x 4 ⅛ in.

One of the most remarkable dust jackets of the 20th century, Hammond’s design juxtaposes a delicate harmony of color with a nightmarish vision.

Collection of Mark Terry/Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC www.dustjackets.com

Artist: Arthur Hawkins, Jr..

The case of Spiv denies by George Bellairs (Macmillan, 1950)

195 x 130 mm, 7 ¾ x 5 ⅛ in.

Created at the end of Hawkins’ career as a dust jacket designer, this composition for the Bellairs crime novel Inspector Littlejohn shows him adopting modernist techniques with an angular construction of image and text.

© The Estate of Arthur Hawkins, Jr.

Artist: Alvin Lustig

Anatomy for Interior Designers by Francis de N. Schroeder (Whitney Publications, 1948)

260 x 235 mm, 10 ¼ x 9 ¼ in.

Lustig’s distinctive hand-rendered lettering was a key pictorial feature of early editions of this striking jacket design. Unfortunately, in later editions this was removed and replaced with a font – a rather ill-fitting Akzidenz-Grotesk Bold.

Reproduced with permission from the Alvin Lustig Archives

Artist: John Minton

Drop it by Paul Bowles (John Lehmann, 1952)

216 X 140 mm, 7 ⅞ x 5 ½ in.

Minton was the perfect artist to portray Bowles’ writings on the seedy underbelly of North African expatriate life.

The Estate of John Minton, Courtesy Special Collections, Royal College of Art, London

Artist: Keith Vaughan

A season in Hell by Arthur Rimbaud (John Lehmann, 1949)

220 x 140 mm, 8 ⅝ x 5 ½ in.

In addition to this, perhaps his finest dust jacket design for John Lehmann, Vaughan produced eight full-page three-color lithographs for the interior of the book, making it one of the finest and most sought after mid-century. illustrated book. The footage helped establish Vaughan’s reputation.

© The Estate of Keith Vaughan, All rights reserved, DACS, photo courtesy of Dominic Winter (auctioneers)

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