Eric Mayer

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Book covers today are usually formulated by marketing and advertising departments rather than created by artists. It's been that way for a long time, although I do seem recall, back in the sixties that a greater number of books, like the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, featured covers which added something in their own right and were not simply an advertisement wrapped around the pages. I still see attractive covers, but not many.

The books I grew up with were not the disposable consumer items they have become. I remember the books in the small, darkly varnished bookcase beside my grandmother's rocking chair. Among them were Heidi and The Wind in the Willows which she read to me in the evenings. There were no jackets on these books to become torn and dirty. Their covers were colored and embossed with pictures. So were the Thornton W. Burgess animal stories from the library.

The most impressive volume in the bookcase, with the most elaborate cover, was Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. That tome weighed practically as much as I did. I'm not quite sure what it was doing there. Maybe at one time everyone had to have a copy. My grandmother never offered to read it to me and when I was old enough to read for myself it became the very first book that I found to be utterly unreadable.

I recalled this after being alerted to Publishers' Bindings Online -- a digital collection of thousands of decorative bindings produced between 1815 and 1930. The site is well worth browsing for a glimpse of an era when even commercially produced books were an art.

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