A look at the 20th cen­tury’s most iconic book cov­ers

The Herald Magazine - - CONTENTS -

THEY say not to judge a book by its cover, but dust jackets have had an im­por­tant place in lit­er­ary his­tory. Tra­di­tion­ally, book cov­ers were very plain, but il­lus­trated jackets flour­ished from the 1920s on­wards, when pub­lish­ers re­alised their po­ten­tial to boost sales. Lead­ing artists and il­lus­tra­tors, in­clud­ing John Piper, Ed­ward Baw­den and Ben Shahn, brought their vi­sions to dif­fer­ent books through the mid­dle decades of the 20th cen­tury.

Now, in The Il­lus­trated Dust Jacket: 1920-1970, pro­fes­sor of illustration Martin Sal­is­bury delves into the his­tory of book cov­ers through the decades (in­clud­ing some very fa­mous and oth­ers much for­got­ten), while some of the artists re­veal how the book jacket evolved from the plain wrap­pers of the 19th cen­tury to eye-catch­ing pieces of art and pro­mo­tional tools.

The de­signs tell us more than just what’s in store in the book, how­ever; they re­flect the chang­ing styles of the pe­ri­ods, in­clud­ing the Art Deco years and post-war Neo-Ro­man­ti­cism.

Here’s a look at some of the high­lights...

1920s Me­trop­o­lis

The 1925 fu­tur­is­tic novel Me­trop­o­lis, by Ger­man au­thor Thea von Har­bou, cre­ated a tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced city in 2026, sus­tained by an un­der­ground world of labour­ers.

In a story rem­i­nis­cent of HG Wells’ ear­lier ro­mances, the son of one of the city’s founders falls in love with a girl from the un­der­ground so­ci­ety. The art deco-style dust jacket, by Aubrey Ham­mond, was one of the stand­outs in the 20th cen­tury. Ac­cord­ing to The Il­lus­trated Dust Jacket, “Ham­mond’s de­sign jux­ta­poses del­i­cate colour har­mony with night­mar­ish vi­sion”.

His work was also a fa­mil­iar sight in ad­ver­tis­ing in the Twen­ties and Thir­ties but he’s prob­a­bly most re­mem­bered for Me­trop­o­lis – the im­age be­came as iconic as the pop­u­lar 1927 film.

1930s Moby Dick

Herman Melville’s 1851 novel needs no in­tro­duc­tion. The com­ing-of-age tale of nar­ra­tor Ish­mael, and a voy­age on a whal­ing boat search­ing for a leg­endary white whale, Moby Dick has be­come a staple in ev­ery high-school English class.

There was a resurgence of in­ter­est in the novel 80 years af­ter pub­li­ca­tion and the 1930 edi­tion, il­lus­trated by New York artist Rock­well Kent, is said to have been a fac­tor.

In­ter­est­ingly, Kent was so prom­i­nent at the time that his name fea­tures on the jacket while Melville’s doesn’t. Kent drew on the ex­pe­ri­ence of his trav­els, in­clud­ing to Alaska, Green­land and Puerto Rico, to il­lus­trate the book.

Af­ter this, Moby Dick se­cured its place as one of the great Amer­i­can nov­els of all time.

1940s A Street Car Named De­sire

Alvin Lustig brought some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent to the book jacket world, his pic­to­rial de­signs us­ing geo­met­ric shapes and pat­terns. His Mod­ernist ap­proach was con­sid­ered very in­no­va­tive in the For­ties and early Fifties.

Lustig did the first edi­tion book jacket for Ten­nessee Wil­liams’ A Street Car Named De­sire, about a young woman who trav­els to New Or­leans af­ter los­ing her home and hus­band, and her sub­se­quent break­down, in 1947.

The play went on to re­ceive a Pulitzer Prize for Drama the fol­low­ing year and is gen­er­ally re­garded as one of the best of the 20th cen­tury.

Lustig lost his eyesight at the age of 39, due to com­pli­ca­tions linked with di­a­betes, but con­tin­ued to de­sign with the help of his wife, be­fore his death the fol­low­ing year.

1950s Tom’s Mid­night Gar­den

The chil­dren’s clas­sic Tom’s Mid­night Gar­den, by Philippa Pearce, ex­plores the na­ture of time and re­al­ity, cen­tred on a boy, Tom, liv­ing un­der quar­an­tine with his aunt and un­cle in a con­verted build­ing that was once a coun­try house in the 1880s.

Tom goes back in time to the old gar­den, where he meets a girl. The book jacket and illustration of the first edi­tion in 1958 is Bri­tish artist Su­san Einzig’s most fa­mous piece of work from the end of the Neo-Ro­man­tic pe­riod.

De­spite her suc­cess, Einzig never felt con­fi­dent about her tal­ents.

The Il­lus­trated Dust Jacket de­scribes her as say­ing: “Ev­ery draw­ing I have done is like a first draw­ing in which I have to dis­cover how to do it – it’s so dif­fi­cult that I some­times won­der how I’ve stuck to it.”

1960s The Bor­row­ers Aloft

Who could for­get The Bor­row­ers, the mi­nus­cule Clock fam­ily who bor­row from the “big peo­ple”, with teenager Ar­ri­etty’s an­tics al­ways get­ting the fam­ily in trou­ble? It was hus­band and wife team Beth and Joe Krush who brought Mary Norton’s char­ac­ters to life in the wildly suc­cess­ful five-part chil­dren’s book se­ries.

The Bor­row­ers was pub­lished in 1953, fol­lowed by the likes of The Bor­row­ers Afield and The Bor­row­ers Aloft, which hit book­shelves in 1961.

By now, the il­lus­tra­tors were renowned for their com­po­si­tion, use of bright colour and quintessen­tially English set­tings in their line draw­ings.

The Il­lus­trated Dust Jacket: 1920-1970, by Martin Sal­is­bury, is pub­lished by Thames & Hud­son, priced £24,95

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