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First edition book designs of 16 popular classic books from various best selling authors

David Goran

A book design is basically the art of incorporating the content, style, format, design, and sequence of the various components of a book into a coherent whole. After the publication of their first edition, most book covers change over the years, whether minimally, correcting for modern fonts and colors, or maximally, going through change after change each generation connecting to a different design. If you’ve ever wondered what your favorite books looked like when they were first published, here is a selection of 16 popular classic book covers.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum. 1900 first edition cover, George M. Hill, Chicago, New York

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum. 1900 first edition cover, George M. Hill, Chicago, New York

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is an American children’s novel written by author L. Frank Baum and illustrated by W. W. Denslow, originally published by the George M. Hill Company in Chicago on May 17, 1900. The story chronicles the adventures of a young farm girl named Dorothy in the magical Land of Oz, after she and her pet dog Toto are swept away from their Kansas home by a cyclone. The novel is one of the best-known stories in American literature and has been widely translated.

Ulysses – James Joyce, 1922, Sylvia Beach, Paris

Ulysses – James Joyce, 1922, Sylvia Beach, Paris

Ulysses is a modernist novel by Irish writer James Joyce. It was first serialised in parts in the American journal The Little Review from March 1918 to December 1920, and then published in its entirety by Sylvia Beach in February 1922, in Paris. It is considered to be one of the most important works of modernist literature, and has been called “a demonstration and summation of the entire movement”.

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Scribner, New York, 1925. Cover design by Francis Cugat

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Scribner, New York, 1925. Cover design by Francis Cugat

The Great Gatsby is a 1925 novel written by American author F. Scott Fitzgerald that follows a cast of characters living in the fictional town of West Egg on prosperous Long Island in the summer of 1922. The story primarily concerns the young and mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby and his quixotic passion and obsession for the beautiful former debutante Daisy Buchanan. Considered to be Fitzgerald’s magnum opus, The Great Gatsby explores themes of decadence, idealism, resistance to change, social upheaval, and excess, creating a portrait of the Jazz Age or the Roaring Twenties that has been described as a cautionary tale regarding the American Dream.

The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway. Scribner, 1926. Cover design by Cleonike Damianakes

The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway. Scribner, 1926. Cover design by Cleonike Damianakes

The Sun Also Rises is a 1926 novel written by American author Ernest Hemingway about a group of American and British expatriates who travel from Paris to the Festival of San Fermín in Pamplona to watch the running of the bulls and the bullfights. The novel was published in the United States in October 1926 by the publishing house Scribner’s.

The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett, 1929, United States

The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett, 1929, United States

The Maltese Falcon is a 1929 detective novel by Dashiell Hammett, originally serialized in the magazine Black Mask beginning with the September 1929 issue. The main character, Sam Spade, appears in this novel only and in three lesser known short stories, yet is widely cited as the crystallizing figure in the development of the hard-boiled private detective genre.

The Thin Man – Dashiell Hammett, United States, 1934

The Thin Man – Dashiell Hammett, United States, 1934

The Thin Man (1934) is a detective novel by Dashiell Hammett. Originally published in the December, 1933 issue of Redbook, it appeared in book form the following month. Although Hammett lived until 1961, The Thin Man was his last published novel.

The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien, 1937, United Kingdom. This artwork was drawn by Tolkien himself

The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien, 1937, United Kingdom. This artwork was drawn by Tolkien himself

The Hobbit, or There and Back Again is a fantasy novel and children’s book by English author J. R. R. Tolkien. It was published on 21 September 1937 to wide critical acclaim, being nominated for the Carnegie Medal and awarded a prize from the New York Herald Tribune for best juvenile fiction. The book remains popular and is recognized as a classic in children’s literature. Personal growth and forms of heroism are central themes of the story. Along with motifs of warfare, these themes have led critics to view Tolkien’s own experiences during World War I as instrumental in shaping the story. The author’s scholarly knowledge of Germanic philology and interest in fairy tales are often noted as influences.

Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck. Published 1939. Cover artist Elmer Hader, United States

Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck. Published 1939. Cover artist Elmer Hader, United States

The Grapes of Wrath is an American realist novel written by John Steinbeck and published in 1939. The book won the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and it was cited prominently when Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962. Set during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on the Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, agricultural industry changes and bank foreclosures forcing tenant farmers out of work. The Grapes of Wrath is frequently read in American high school and college literature classes due to its historical context and enduring legacy.