Among the products of the publishing business that PW editors see far more of, on a daily basis, than the civilian reader are book covers, even if they are only rarely a subject in PW. But rest assured, designers, we are all familiar with the never-ending task of conveying subject and content attractively, clearly, and accurately, and with the tropes and tics that inevitably arise. That’s why I like to keep a copy of The Art of American Book Covers: 1875-1930, by Richard Minsky, published by George Braziller, Inc., nearby on my shelves, since it furnishes some particularly striking examples of how a different era met the same challenges. Minsky focuses on stamped hardcovers, before the dominance of dust jackets, and on designs influenced by Victorian trends like William Morris’s Arts and Crafts movement and the Western embrace of Eastern, particularly Japanese woodcut, art. Throughout, the covers chosen are elegantly simple, to the point of minimalism or even near-abstraction, favoring silhouettes and decorative patterns over the busier, more literal illustrations we’re now accustomed to. Minsky even includes a key to the monograms used by designers to sign their work (and notes that Houghton Mifflin advertised their 1887 catalog by announcing the famous designer hired but leaving the completed covers up to purchasers to discover). There’s an appealing element of mystery to these designs, which rarely announce exactly what content lies within, of course enhanced by the fact that many of the books are long out of print and forgotten. Minsky makes clear that these covers weren’t typical even of their own time, but they still might hold a good lesson for today.