Beautiful mid-century book covers in ‘The Illustrated Dust Jacket’

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What Makes an Outstanding Book Cover? The Book Jacket Designers Guild of the 1940s and 1950s defined art as “the successful integration of concept with graphic means…and the expression of the spirit of the book”. In other words, a beautiful book cover translates its content into an entirely different visual language. It draws you in, prompting you to pick that particular book off the shelf.

A new book featuring beautiful mid-century covers, “The Illustrated Dust Jacket, 1920-1970”, contains dozens of exceptional hand-drawn or painted covers. It is a colorful guide to the rise of the illustrated dust jacket as an integral part of the book as object and artifact.

A 1955 edition of Graham Greene’s “Loser Takes All”.

(Stevens/From the collection of Martin Salisbury/Photography Simon Pask)

It also offers a parallel lesson in the history of 20th century art. “As in most areas of commercial art,” writes author Martin Salisbury, professor of illustration at the Cambridge School of Art at Anglia Ruskin University in Britain, “the graphic style of dust jackets in the 20th century reflected generally the fashions and movements of the times.” The covers shown are geometric, graphic and sometimes austere – excellent examples of the era movement from realism to modernism, the nuances of Art Nouveau replaced by cubism and abstraction.

The dust jacket of Barbara Jones “The Unsophisticated Arts”, which she wrote and illustrated.

(The Estate of Barbara Jones)

A colorful 1955 cover of Graham Greene’s “Loser Takes All” uses “the graphic idioms of the time”, while Barbara Jones incorporates the title of “The Unsophisticated Arts” into her illustration, holding to a seamless graphic design.

Illustration by Susan Einzig for “Tom’s Midnight Garden” by Philippa Pearce

(The Estate of Susan Einzig/Courtesy of Hetty Einzig)

Arranged alphabetically by artist, “The Illustrated Dust Jacket” provides short biographies, and while it’s easy to flip through the book just for the pictures, the discussion of the lives and work of the illustrators is well worth a look. read. Susan Einzig was “one of the last children and teenagers to come out of Nazi Germany on Kindertransport in the months before the outbreak of World War II” and later created dust jackets for children’s literature, including Carnegie Medal-winning “Tom’s Midnight Garden.”

Milton Glaser’s jacket design for Tom Wolfe’s “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test”

(Milton Glaser Studio/Mark Terry Collection/Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC)

Milton Glaser was the first graphic designer to receive the National Medal of Arts, awarded by President Obama in 2009. Glazer’s groovy cover for Tom Wolfe’s “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” is iconic, though not not as instantly recognizable as its most famous design, the “I ♥ NY” logo, which has been referenced and copied around the world.

Arthur Hawkins Jr. designed this jacket for Oscar Schisgall’s “Barron Ixell: Crime Breaker”

(The Estate of Arthur Hawkins, Jr./Photo courtesy Hyde Brothers Booksellers, Fort Wayne, IN)

New York designer Arthur Hawkins Jr., who created around 1,500 covers during his career, was adept at capturing atmosphere and visual metaphor. A bookseller once said to his son, “I bought more bad detective stories because your father’s covers were so good!” Like other “illustrated dust jacket” artists, Hawkins knew what ultimately makes a great book cover: it makes you want to read what’s written inside.

“The Illustrated Dust Jacket, 1920-1970” by Martin Salisbury

(Thames and Hudson)

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