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The Art of American Book Covers: 1875-1930

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At the turn of the century, book design was more than a craft; it was a labor of love. Readers accustomed to today’s more utilitarian book covers will find breathtaking images here. The diversity and ingenuity of the artwork will capture the imagination of book lovers and collectors alike—and anyone who enjoys engaging design.


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At the turn of the century, book design was more than a craft; it was a labor of love. Readers accustomed to today’s more utilitarian book covers will find breathtaking images here. The diversity and ingenuity of the artwork will capture the imagination of book lovers and collectors alike—and anyone who enjoys engaging design.

30 review for The Art of American Book Covers: 1875-1930

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mir

    This book makes me grateful for the internet. Imagine seeing all these unknown books with beautiful covers and having no way to look them up. Now, if only goodreads would improve its search function...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Forrest

    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 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.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    A gorgeous, gorgeous book with many beautiful images of vintage decorative bindings (and the barest minimum of text and commentary, but that was not the attraction here, so I didn't mind). My only real complaint is that it is not three times as thick. This is definitely a celebration of the book as object; the actual contents of the volumes depicted are irrelevant here, and many of the loveliest bindings grace works that I have no doubt are completely unreadable and justly forgotten. There are e A gorgeous, gorgeous book with many beautiful images of vintage decorative bindings (and the barest minimum of text and commentary, but that was not the attraction here, so I didn't mind). My only real complaint is that it is not three times as thick. This is definitely a celebration of the book as object; the actual contents of the volumes depicted are irrelevant here, and many of the loveliest bindings grace works that I have no doubt are completely unreadable and justly forgotten. There are exceptions, of course. I recognized the edition of The Country of Pointed Firs which I used to own, but parted from feeling that the binding didn't capture the spirit of the book -- it is in fact, generically pretty, and no more. But seeing it here, I wished I had it back. I have mixed feelings about treasuring a book just for the way it looks on the outside. I completely understand the appeal, and back in the day bought many old books largely for their looks, but when space constraints pressed in on me, I found them easy to part with. Now I'm feeling like the pendulum may be swinging back. One of the parts of this book that I found the coolest was towards the back, a guide to the monograms and other tiny decorative little signatures of the major book cover artists. It had never really occurred to me that these beautiful creations were the work of individual people. After learning this, I had great fun pulling out some of the pretties that remain in my collection to check for the tiny marks to see if any were the work of the artists listed in the guide. Only one was, but it was a deeply engaging hunt none-the-less. And some that I saw weren't listed in the guide. Yes, a new hobby is born -- monogram spotting. How I do love books, inside and out.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Frankie

    I wish all art books kept things as clean and simple as this one does. Clean design, single covers to a page, with bold text biblio and light text descriptions. I hate art books that cram pages with scaled down prints. The intro describes the movements and reasons behind the art, the techniques employed, the names associated, and refers to examples by number within the text. The text exhibits 143 covers at varying scale, according to their largest fit on a page. A concluding index identifies ove I wish all art books kept things as clean and simple as this one does. Clean design, single covers to a page, with bold text biblio and light text descriptions. I hate art books that cram pages with scaled down prints. The intro describes the movements and reasons behind the art, the techniques employed, the names associated, and refers to examples by number within the text. The text exhibits 143 covers at varying scale, according to their largest fit on a page. A concluding index identifies over 70 monograms which I'm sure I'll refer to in the future. Following are three examples of my favorites, which are key pieces that illustrate dispensations of cover design. Sadly, the era passed when dust jackets took over the burden of marketing the book, at least in the US, and for a while before edition clubs revived artisan cover design in the 40s. The New Day: A Poem in Songs and Sonnets by Richard Watson Gilder. 1876, designer unknown. http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_l1r... p 24. Though the illustration of the peacock feather is attributed to the author's wife Helena, the quality of this cover lies in the shimmer and detail of the gold inlay, as well as the incredible design decision of placement in the corner, as if it floated there during handling. The most powerful indication of insight within these cover designs appears in this unknown designer, 1880 edition of Richard Markham's Aboard the Mavis p 82. http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-vxoTGton9a4... The titling is unimpressive, but the jaw-dropping, premonitory decoupage design makes me wonder how many leading future artists had this book on their shelf during the making of the 20th century. Kipling's The Jungle Book. Frank Hazenplug, 1913. http://www.americanaexchange.com/AE/A... p 47. It may be difficult to make out in this image, but the illusive backlighting is the key to this cover. The usual way is to let the cloth stand as background and the gold as a prominent detail, but this cover uses the gold in the back and the dark green cloth color as foreground. The silhouettes begin in the dark green trees and figures, are followed by olive green trees, then pea green trees, then gold to show the light seeping through towards the viewer.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Starbubbles

    This book was beautiful. It makes me hopeful that when electronic books outsell hardcopies that this kind of cover art will experience a revival. I believe it would be a great way to revitalize the market by creating books as art and investment pieces. You aren't going to whip out your reader and show your 100s of books. No, you would however drag your friend to your bookshelf to showoff the peacock feather on The New Day: a Poem in Songs and Sonnets by, Richard Watson Gilder. Anyway- while the This book was beautiful. It makes me hopeful that when electronic books outsell hardcopies that this kind of cover art will experience a revival. I believe it would be a great way to revitalize the market by creating books as art and investment pieces. You aren't going to whip out your reader and show your 100s of books. No, you would however drag your friend to your bookshelf to showoff the peacock feather on The New Day: a Poem in Songs and Sonnets by, Richard Watson Gilder. Anyway- while the examples were beautiful, I don't know if any started new movements in book cover art nor do I think any were top sellers (except for 2: Jungle Book and Uncle Tom's Cabin). I also found it frustrating that there were no descriptions of what the books were about. I know that was not within the scope of the book, so I did not hold it against it. But being told the significance and meaning actually by the picture would have been helpful.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jo

    Interesting! Learned a lot about book covers and got some composition theory and practice done.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Rada

    I never thought of book covers as art. But they totally are. The covers featured were beautiful. As in all artistic works, one artist was influenced by another. In the early days, many of the artists were women. It was an acceptable form of employment outside the house.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nidah (SleepDreamWrite)

    It was interesting to see different style of book covers. Some good some okay and some were alright.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Harry

    I wished that the book explains more details about book cover design.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Wheatie

    beautiful documentation of the most gorgeous book covers. strictly focused on formal design elements though-- does not touch on historical significance of book content.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

  12. 5 out of 5

    Eliash Strongowski

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    Book porn . . . beautiful publisher's decorated covers. Yum. Book porn . . . beautiful publisher's decorated covers. Yum.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Christina K Stopka

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mary Daly

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ian Vance

  18. 4 out of 5

    Glenn Miller

  19. 5 out of 5

    Willow Curtis

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kevin I. Slaughter

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jae Eon

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mary Kidd

  23. 4 out of 5

    Henry Feniuk

  24. 5 out of 5

    Dave Lawrence

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ambrose Miles

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany T

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

  29. 4 out of 5

    James Payne

  30. 4 out of 5

    154042

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