Vintage Book Covers Design

vintage book covers collection
by CJ McDaniel // February 9  

Vintage book covers are in various places, from antique stores to online marketplaces. These book covers often feature intricate designs and detailed illustrations and are a reminder of a time when each book was a labor of love. While some people may think they are outdated or old-fashioned, others see the appeal in the unique designs and artwork. Either way, there is no denying that these covers are a work of art. Vintage book covers are aesthetically pleasing and hold a certain charm and nostalgia that can be hard to find in modern designs. By studying some of the most iconic covers from the past, you can better understand how to create a timeless design for your work.

Vintage Book Covers

Have you ever felt uninspired by your book cover? In today’s market, it’s easy to feel you need to have a specific “look” to succeed. What if you took a step back and found inspiration in some of the most beautiful, classic vintage book covers? Check out our list of 10 incredible examples!

1. California, Romantic & Beautiful by George Wharton James

One of the most striking features of vintage book covers is the gold embellishments made with gold leaf, a thick sheet metal often used for gilding. Back then, gilding was a widespread technique in the medieval era, often used to embellish book covers. An excellent example would be this beautiful hardcover edition! The gilt design over the dark blue background gives this book cover a feeling of luxury and sophistication. Apart from the striking gold color, details on vintage book covers like this are intricate and well-thought-of, especially if the illustration involves trees, flowers, and animals. These eye-catching features make this vintage book stand out on shelves and look stunning when photographed, proving how it’s a labor of love.

2. Migration of Birds by Frederick C. Lincoln

Vintage book covers often use figures or illustrations directly related to the book’s title to create a compelling visual. One example is the cover of this book, which features a bird, possibly a Rose-breasted grosbeak. Since the book and the title talk about the migration of North American birds, the book covers show a faint illustration of a map behind a bird. The pastel blue background makes the artwork and text stand out, especially since they’re in colors black, white, and pink. The author’s name is on top and in a different font from the rest of the text, while the title and short description of the book appear above a scroll-like shape. Designs like this are usual among vintage books, often also found in book covers today for their effectiveness and charm.

3. Roads to Glory by Richard Aldington

Many of the book covers that talk about the first World War feature patriotic imagery, such as flags or heroic soldiers marching off to battle. Others depict scenes of the war, using shapes and colors to convey the emotional turmoil of the event. As for the book cover of this book containing World War I stories, the illustrator takes the readers into the scenes from the western front, such as explosions, ruins, and barbed wires. Whatever the style, vintage book covers like this are a fascinating glimpse into the past and a reminder of this global conflict’s impact on the entire world. If you’re designing a history book or a book set in a much older era, this dust jacket design can inspire you!

vintage book covers road to glory

4. Loser Takes All by Graham Greene

Vintage books are a fan-favorite of many as people believe that the beauty of vintage book covers will never die and that they offer a level of sophistication and style that is hard to find elsewhere. The stylish use of the graphic idioms of the period is one of the things that makes these covers so unique. This colorful book cover makes an excellent example of using “the graphic idioms of the period.” The illustration depicts the glamour of Monte Carlo, where the story took place, and a roulette commonly found in casinos, hinting at possible gambling in the book. Although it only used a few colors, the book cover still stood out because the combination made it look colorful. The typography is also well-chosen, emphasizing the author’s name while drawing curiosity to the book’s title. What a timeless book cover!

vintage book covers loser takes all

5. Things Will Take a Turn by Beatrice Harraden

Vintage book covers come in all shapes and sizes, but they have some commonalities. For example, floral patterns and other nature-inspired designs are popular choices for authors. There are many ways to incorporate nature-inspired designs into vintage book cover art, from using botanical illustrations to incorporating natural elements into the overall design. This book included the latter by featuring a bird eyeing a grasshopper near a plant with leaves as large as the bird. Meanwhile, the gold section makes the title and author’s name stand out against the beautiful and intricate image. Vintage book covers like this are a reminder that, even amid a busy life, there is a world of beauty and peace to be found in nature and words in books too.

vintage book covers things will take a turn

6. Candle-Lightin’ Time by Paul Laurence Dunbar

In the early days of bookbinding, cloth or decorative fabric was the preferred material for book covers. It was solid and durable and could be easily decorated with embossed designs, others even with gold or silver foil accents. This book uses green cloth as the cover, embossed with a colored illustration. There are also gilt symbols and lettering on the front cover and spine, which stands out against the green background. Creating an embossed design on clothbound books is labor-intensive but a great way to add texture and interest to a book cover. It’s no wonder that these old book covers have inspired modern designers!

vintage book covers candle lightin' time

7. Little Rivers by Henry Van Dyke

There’s something special about vintage book covers with intricate floral designs. They evoke a feeling of nostalgia and remind us of a simpler time, possibly because of the intricate patterns and delicate colors used in these covers. This book cover exhibits that vibe. The detailed floral design in the middle stands out against the dark blue background, especially with its gold, green, and gray color scheme. The font used for the title and author’s name also adds a touch of sophistication to the book cover. Together, these elements make this vintage book cover classy and elegant, even eye-catching when placed with other books on the shelf.

vintage book covers little rivers

8. Drugs and the Mind by Robert S. de Ropp

There are many ways to make a striking design on a vintage book cover. One famous method authors, illustrators, and publishers used before is bold color schemes. This method makes the cover pop and ensures it’s noticeable among other books. Using vibrant color schemes like those used in this book cover made the book more striking and memorable, even compared to modern ones. The details in this unique cover illustration also give readers a sense of what they can expect, whether that’s the complexity of the mind or the effects of drugs.

vintage book covers drugs and the mind

9. The Floral Kingdom by Cordelia Harris Turner

Vintage book covers are often more detailed and beautiful than some modern books. They usually have gold leafing and other intricate details. Often, the illustrations on vintage book covers are works of art. Check this out! Apart from the gold elements, one of the things that makes this vintage book cover so unique is the attention to detail. Every part is carefully considered and executed. The cover illustration is intricate and detailed, and the typography is beautiful and well-designed. The whole book cover is a perfect reflection of the book’s content!

vintage book covers the floral kingdom

10. Spectrum Analysis by Henry E. Roscoe

Have you ever found a book on a shelf that has no title on its cover? Whether the design has integrated the title or because the focus is entirely on something else, books with this type of cover manage to be eye-catching and intriguing without giving away too much information. That’s what this book cover successfully did. Its text-free book cover made a statement and drew the curiosity of potential readers, making them wonder whether they were about to pick a science or philosophy book. Like most vintage books, this cover also used gilding, with only a spectrum of colors in the middle, two round figures at the side, and four stars as additional embellishments.

vintage book covers spectrum analysis

11. Too Curious by Edward J. Goodman

Some vintage book covers feature minimal designs, relying on special tactile effects to create a unique look and feel. These effects can include embossing, debossing, die-cutting, and foil stamping. These special tactile effects develop a sense of depth or dimensionality, as exhibited in this book cover. There’s no need to incorporate more colors in this cover as the stamping effect applied on the curtain has already given it feel and personality! The gold accents used on the hand and title make these elements stand out on the dark background. Indeed, minimalism is at its best!

vintage book covers too curious


Vintage book covers are often beautiful and intricate, and studying them can be a great source of inspiration for modern designers, authors, illustrators, and publishers. Looking at vintage book covers can help see how design has changed over the years, providing ideas for updating classic designs for today’s audiences. Each cover’s colors, composition, and overall design can inspire modern designs. Take some time to browse a few and see what you can find!

For more design inspiration for your latest or upcoming book release, see our Book Cover Ideas Blog!

About the Author

CJ grew up admiring books. His family owned a small bookstore throughout his early childhood, and he would spend weekends flipping through book after book, always sure to read the ones that looked the most interesting. Not much has changed since then, except now some of those interesting books he picks off the shelf were designed by his company!