Front cover: great book jacket and cover design

The large-format pages of Front cover (Mitchell Beazley, 2001) present nearly 300 covers from the 20th century.

The text by Alan Powers is far from mere filler between designs. It is informative and perceptive, especially in the legends that accompany the cover images. 

But it’s the covers themselves that one turns to this book for. There’s a fascination in seeing well-known books in their original (often unfamiliar) garb. 

The method used for grouping these designs is attractively flexible. Books are clustered variously by, for example, imprint, artist, genre, series, period, or technique.

I learnt all kinds of things from this book. For example, that Gollancz decided on yellow as the background colour for his covers after visiting railway stations to study posters. And that the paper used for the covers was selected for its resistance to fading. 

I hadn’t come across Dell Books’ ‘mapback’ covers, each of which depicted the setting of the crime story within. Powers tells us that objections from sales reps brought the look to an end. Perhaps it should be revived. 

It’s difficult to select favorites from so many designs, but for me two of the covers from Powers’ ‘Lettering’ chapter are candidates: David Jones’s own design for his Anathemata (Faber & Faber, 1952) and Michael Harvey’s design for Atlantic Fury by Hammond Innes (Collins, 1962).

Notwithstanding the Jones cover, Faber & Faber – a company that in other ways I admire – seem to be to have pretty consistently produced the worst covers. Much in evidence in this book, they may be celebrated* and they are certainly distinctive, but to my eyes they are by turns boring or ugly. Sorry.


* In 2009 the company published a ‘celebration’ of its covers.


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