If someone were to map out all the science fiction and fantasy book covers of the past decade, we’re sure they’d find some very interesting trends indeed. Lush, cosmic portraits would probably take the cake, as would clever, minimalist designs inspired by cartography, typography, and anatomy. We’d probably see quite a few swords, and crowns, and snakes. Sigils would likely abound, as would portals and doors, cities and lanterns and ships.
As we kick off 2020, though, there’s one book cover trend we’d love to see in the years to come: that’s the particular brand of minimalism rampant from around the 1820s to the 1920s—eerie, striking, reminiscent of embroidery, tarot, and lithographic prints.
Earlier last spring, as the #BookCoverChallenge took over Book Twitter, the folks over at the Public Domain Review shared some picks of their own. They combed through tons of public domain book covers to bring readers thirty-two of the prettiest between the years of 1820 and 1914.
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.
Go check them out!