Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Six of the Worst

I've no idea how many secondhand books I've sorted through during the last three years, but even a conservative estimate puts the total at over 100,000. During that time, I've come to several conclusions:
  • A tatty, obscure 1970s horror title will usually be worth far more than a beautiful old Penguin paperback
  • The period from 1954 to 1974 was a golden age for book design, but it also saw some incredibly awful, garish covers, like these reprints of popular classics:
Jane Austen is synonymous with refinment and understatement, unlike this hideous jacket design. I particularly hate the almost fluorescent font for the title.

Slightly less offensive, but once again with rubbish fonts and a girl who looks like Nellie Olsen, for those who remember 'The Little House on the Prairie'.

Cor! A saucy French novel. I'll 'ave some of that! But where's the sex? I'll flick through to the end of the chapter...no, nothing there...maybe the next chapter...no, still nothing.

Maupassant and Zola may have been 'racy' in the 1890s, but I suspect that many 1960 book buyers felt that the cover design promised more than it delivered.

But the deception wasn't limited to adults. I wonder how many children struggled to read the copy of 'Gulliver's Travels' that Auntie Doris had given them for Christmas?

"Heathcliffe, it's me, Cathy, I've come home". Perhaps I'm being geeky about fonts, but this one is only acceptable in the credit sequence of a David O. Selznick Hollywood film. Like the Gulliver, this is also a children's edition cover. Lucky kids.

Finally, here is the 31st book in the famous 'Bancroft Classics' series:

No, I haven't heard of them either, but the cover design is in a class of its own, with Jane Eyre depicted as a 10-year-old with encephalitis. The eyes follow you around the room.

If you're feeling corrupted by this horrible display, then I'd recommend visiting this wonderful collection of Penguin and Pelican covers. Here are two of my favourites:

Will book jackets go the way of album covers as the market share of ebooks continues to rise? I hope not.

13 comments:

Martin said...

It does make you wonder how the bar was ever set so low, doesn't it? I'm glad I followed the link to the 'quality' covers.

nilly said...

I can tell you haven't developed a taste for vintage yet. Those books covers would be displayed as retro decorations in some smart homes today.

David said...

I think I had some Bancroft Classics - "Journey to the Centre of the Earth" and "Swiss Family Robinson", which I actually read, and some others that. If I recall correctly they were made with impossibly tiny print and strange fibrous paper. I recall my relief when I discovered proper Penguins with nice paper, notes and everything. (Of course this was 30 or 35 years ago).

Annie said...

Me too. I collect old Penguins (always judging books by their covers, me) - here are some of my favourites
http://www.flickr.com/photos/slaminsky/sets/72157621789676764/

Cal said...

I live the chap actually twirling his moustache on the Maupassant cover.

And I want that Sense & Sensibilty. Fabulous stuff.

Kylie said...

As much as I love the old Penguin covers (and I do, I really do) I have to admit that I am quite fond of the all of the other covers you showed us and hate. "Rubbish" fonts included.
I had a copy of Gulliver's Travels when I was little, and you're spot on, I never read it. Too much like hard work then, and no desire to try again now.

Kid said...

I've actually got that copy of Gulliver's Travels - by Dean, I believe. Had it since the '60s, along with Kidnapped and Treasure Island. I must confess that I like the Treasure Island one.

Richmonde said...

But Jane Eyre IS 10 in the picture! That's the horrible schoolmaster Mr Brocklehurst in the background. I think the art is rather good. Many talented artists worked on those "garish" covers. Though I admit their lack of research into costume and hairstyles bothered me at the time (and does now).

Kid said...

I dug out my copy of Gulliver's Travels - it's published by The Children's Press, not by Dean as I at first thought. Are you selling that copy by any chance?

Steerforth said...

Nilly - I was into 'vintage' before it became fashionable - my flat was a palace of kitsch. But when bubble lamps and 'Herb Alpert Plays Burt Bacharach' became fashionable again, in the mid-90s, the appeal waned.

David - You actually remember the Bancroft Classics? Who were they, I wonder?

Annie - Thanks for the link - wonderful covers. I particularly liked the Albert Camus.

Cal - The chap looks a bit of a bounder.

Kylie - I'd love to know how many children who received copies of Gulliver's Travels, Robinson Crusoe, Moonfleet and Wuthering Heights actually read them.

Kid - No, I don't have it. The print runs were so big that they only sell on the penny book market.

Richmonde - That thought did cross my mind - it's 20 years since I read Jane Eyre and the plot details are murky - but I never let facts get in the way of a cheap joke.

Sarie said...

I remember Little House on the Prairie, and you're right, that girl IS the spit of Nelly Olsen!

Canadian Chickadee said...

I once took a (short) literature course where the instructor was a rabid Guy de Maupassant fan. Personally, I found his work unutterably depressing and sad. Probably not surprising since the man's brain had been destroyed by absinthe and that he had syphilis. But apparently he is still much admired and taught in France. Go figure ...

jack fuller said...

Re:
David - You actually remember the Bancroft Classics? Who were they, I wonder?

I had some of these books: I think they were printed in Edinburgh, and were abbreviated versions of books one could read later, when it was easier to cope with the bulk of, say (and this was one I read aged 12) "The Old Curiosity Shop" by Dickens. I also had Jekyll and Hyde. I recall that the paper, like heavy "sugar paper," was yellowed and smelled of biscuits. Wonderful! But yes, even as a boy I thought the covers were beyond the pale. Jack F.