Looking back at book covers as art

Two books about book cover design and illustration caught my attention in a recent article in the London Review of Books

They’re published by U.K. houses surveying their early golden years of book design and illustration up to the present. Book covers used to be designed and illustrated based on the book’s overall aesthetic. There was an integrity to the wholeness of the book as an art object. In some cases, the design branded the publisher or author, which today is true for Milton Glaser’s designs of Philip Roth’s book covers. But Roth is a literary institution and such branding doesn’t happen like it used to. Nowadays the priority for cover design and illustration is to grab the shopper’s attention in the mega bookstore.

My curiosity about these two books was simply to get a look inside.  So I searched online and found the following.

"Penguin By Illustrators"

Penguin By Illustrators is created by The Penguin Collectors Society* in the U.K., which sells the book. The website says, “This is not a definitive or comprehensive history of the use of illustration on and within Penguin Books; but it does cover virtually the entire period from Penguin’s tentative, and then formal abandonment of purely typographic covers in the mid 1950s – right up until the present time.”

I found examples of the illustrations on the blog of a U.K. designer.

Eighty Years of Book Cover Design by John Connelly is Faber and Faber’s look-back. In The Guardian’s review last summer, one of the best comments recognizes how we’ll react to the changes through the years: 

“Whether you regret or applaud what you see happening probably depends on when during the last 80 years you began to read.”

Examples of what’s inside the Penguin book are presented on The Guardian’s website in a slide show of 18 covers from 1934 to 2008. It includes William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. Keep in mind these are British authors and covers for the British editions of their books. The American covers are different.

*Correction made from The Penguin Society to The Penguin Collectors Society.

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