Paperback Design: The Early Years

Paperbacks have been around for half a century at least, but in terms of innovative design they were considered the frumpy cousins of the long playing record sleeve. When record covers shrank to CD size, the book cover suddenly found itself in the spotlight. With all the fascination with contemporary book cover design, one can look back at the earlier covers with a fresh eye and see that the innovation was there all along. The designers actually had a lot more freedom then; no quotes, author of lines, prize winning stickers and the back cover was comprised of a single paragraph of copy with nary a barcode in sight.

The current interest in old book covers has been having repercussions in the art world also. Several artists have been paying homage by making direct copies of covers in oil and gouache. Richard Baker, a still life artist who shows at Tibor de Nagy in New York, has been making paintings of paperback books which resonated with him in his formative years. He has tracked down the editions that he read at the time and quite a few of them are classic old Vintage, Anchor and Schocken books. One could call them pop art. I call them beautiful. 
 Megan Wilson is the Associate Art Director at Vintage and Anchor Books.





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