The Art of American Book Covers: 1875-1930 by Richard Minsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Immediately following on my reading of the fantastic tome The Library: A World History, I set about reading Minsky's The Art of American Book Covers: 1875 - 1930. Artistically, this era is one of my sweet spots, since I am a big fan of Pre-Raphaelite art and Art Nouveau. The book is full of carefully-curated photographs of book covers from that age. It reminds me of the few Sotheby's catalogs I have had the privilege of fingerprinting (it feels so naughty, yet so good to smudge a Sotheby's. You should try it sometime!). But the most fascinating thing about the book was the careful way in which Minsky draws out the salient features of each cover, explaining why the art is so fantastic and exactly how the cover designers went about creating such fine illusions. For me, it was a real education in design and composition.
Now, I'll say that my publisher was good enough to find a really great cover designer who created a really great cover. But I am incredibly jealous of the pieces featured in this book. There are dozens of absolutely gorgeous covers, but my favorites have to be the 1881 Houghton, Mifflin and Company's edition of Mr. Bodley Abroad and the 1880 Dodd, Mead and Co. edition of Aboard the Mavis (neither of which are on Goodreads, though they are on Booklikes, sans covers. You can see the covers as part of a montage here, near the middle.).
I'd like to say I waxed nostalgic, but seeing that the very last of these came out over 85 years ago, and I'm not yet quite that old, I'd be lying if I did.
Then again, aren't book covers, to some extent, about illusion, sleight-of-hand, and, dare I say it, deceit?
It's true - you can't judge a book by its cover. But we still try. Seems like we've been trying for a long time now.
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