The Art of Book Covers (1820–1914)

No one ever nominated us for the book cover challenge so we thought we’d take matters into our own hands and publish some of our favourites from the first hundred years of the book cover (as we commonly understand it today) — though we’ve not the restraint for seven spread over seven days, so here’s a massive splurge of thirty-two in one.

Inspired by rising literacy rates and advancing technologies, the nineteenth century saw the book transform from a largely hand-made object to a mass-produced product. In this new environment the book cover took on added importance: it was no longer merely a functional protection for the pages but instead became a key platform through which to communicate and sell the book. Prior to this covers had — bar a smattering of highly bespoke one-off creations (e.g. embroidered covers for personal libraries) — mostly been plain leather bound affairs. From the 1820s, with the rise of mechanical bookbinding, these leather covers of old gave way to new cloth coverings which, in addition to being inexpensive, were now also printable. A wide variety of cover printing techniques were employed over the decades: from embossing to gilt to multi-colour lithography. A totally new artistic space was opened up. As you can see in our highlights below it was one in which illustrators and designers flourished, producing a range of covers as eclectic in aesthetic approach as the myriad contents they fronted.

Das unheimliche Buch
Felix Schloemp. Das unheimliche Buch. Munich: Georg Mueller, 1914 — Source.

Dress and Care of the Feet
John Lord Peck. Dress and Care of the Feet. New York: Fowler & Wells, 1871 — Source.

A Masque of Days
Charles Lamb. A Masque of Days. London: Cassell and Co., 1901 — Source. Cover design by Walter Crane.

Ignatius Donnelly. Ragnarok: The Age of Fire and Gravel. New York, D. Appleton and Company, 1883 — Source.

The Book of Wonder
Lord Dunsany. The Book of Wonder. London: William Heinemann, 1912 — Source.

Practical Taxidermy
Montague Browne. Practical Taxidermy. London: “The Bazaar” Office, 1878 — Source.

Evelyn Sharp. Wymps. New York & London: John Lane, 1897 — Source.

A Treatise on Adulteration of Food and Culinary Poisons
Friedrich Christian Accum. A Treatise on Adulteration of Food and Culinary Poisons. London, Longman, 1822 — Source.

Too Curious
Edward J. Goodman. Too Curious. London; Guildford: Bentley & Son, 1888 — Source.

milky way
Max Wolf. Die Milchstrasse. Leipzig : Johann Ambrosius Barth, 1908 — Source.

A Floral Fantasy in an Old English Garden
Walter Crane. A Floral Fantasy in an Old English Garden. London: Harper, 1899 — Source.

Sketch-Book of British Birds
Richard Bowdler Sharpe. Sketch-Book of British Birds. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge,1898 — Source.

Ten Time One is Ten
Frederic Ingham. Ten Time One is Ten. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1871 — Source.

Mr. Sweet Potatoes
Mr. Sweet Potatoes and Other Stories. New York: Werner, 1899 — Source.

The Water Babies
Charles Kingsley. The Water Babies. London: Macmillan and Co., 1886 — Source.

Successful Advertising
Thomas Smith and J.H. Osborne. Successful Advertising: It’s Secrets Explained. London: Smith’s Printing, Publishing and Advertising Agency, 1897 — Source.

Book of Images
W. T. Horton. A Book of Images. London: The Unicorn Press, 1898 — Source.

Garden in Spring
E. A. Bowles. My Garden in Spring. London: T. C. & E. C. Jack, 1914 — Source. Cover design by Katherine Cameron

Standard Ahiman Rezon and Blue Lodge Guide
Moses Wolcott Redding. Standard Ahiman Rezon and Blue Lodge Guide. New York : Redding & Co., 1889 — Source.

The Floral Kingdom
Cordelia Harris Turner. The Floral Kingdom. Chicago: M. Warren,1877 — Source.

 Book of Dreams and Ghosts
Andrew Lang. The Book of Dreams and Ghosts. London ; New York ; Bombay : Longmans, Green, 1897 — Source.

Költők Albuma
Antal Radó. Költők Albuma. Budapest: Robert Lampel, 1904 — Source.

On a Lark to the Planets
Frances Trego Montgomery. On a Lark to the Planets. Akron: The Saalfield Publishing Co., 1904 — Source.

How to Swim
Captain Davis Dalton. How to Swim. New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, The Knickerbocker Press, 1899 — Source.

From the Earth to the Moon
Jules Verne. From the Earth to the Moon. London, Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle, 1873 — Source.

Scenes of Clerical Life
George Eliot. Scenes of Clerical Life. William Blackwood‎ & Sons, 1857 — Source.

The Yellow Book
The Yellow Book. Volume III. October, 1894. London: John Lane. — Source. One of the many covers for the journal executed by Aubrey Beardsley

Gulliver's travels
Jonathan Swift. Voyages de Gulliver dans des contrées lointaines. Paris: Delarue, 1855 — Source.

The Story of the Sun
Sir Robert Ball. The Story of the Sun. London: Cassell and Co., 1910 — Source.

Spectrum Analysis
Henry. E. Roscoe. Spectrum Analysis. London: MacMillan and Co, 1869 — Source.

Among English Hedgerows
Clifton Johnson. Among English Hedgerows. New York, Macmillan Co.; London, Macmillan and Co., 1912 — Source.

To the End
C. Lockhart-Gordon. To the End. London: John F. Shaw and Co., 1898[?] — Source.