Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tackiness extraordinaire

More great vintage cover art filled with historical lust, wantonness, and unabashed pagan barbarity. I found some additional examples while poking through bookshelves in my corner office. All are from historical novels published in the 1950s through 1970s.

"Balkis, Queen of Sheba... men spoke of her as a witch, others called her a wanton, but all succumbed to her charm."

"A taut tale of swashbuckling adventure and primitive passion. How he saves a Mayan princess from the sadistic conquerors makes a story thrillingly alive with barbaric splendor."

"Was she a divine goddess or vile serpent? Writers have hotly debated this question."

"A young Renaissance rogue with the face of an angel and the morals of a tomcat." Mrrrroooow.

With a tagline like the one above, I couldn't resist scanning in the back cover of Quintin Chivas. Click to enlarge and read.

"So begins the tempestuous story of a wild affair, set against the lusty, colorful background of 18th-century England - a dramatic tale of dalliance and deviltry, licentiousness and intrigue..."

"A lusty panorama of the splendor and sensuality of ancient Rome... the bestial savagery and brutal blood-lust of the arena..."

Rogue adventurer! "I was mad for the smell of London, for the touch of English women, and even, by God, for English beer."

"Breathtaking excitement unrivaled in history, when the daughter of a king could be carried off and sold as a slave."

"A woman in the world of men. Her half brother... who forced her to share bed and throne with him in return for the fulfillment of her dreams and destiny..." Even classic historical novels like this one sometimes drew the short straw in the cover department.

For previous examples from the tacky cover art gallery, click here.


  1. LOL - some of those covers are just amazing. I remember picking up stuff like this at the annual library sale when I was in high school. Some of the old Norah Lofts covers were priceless, as I recall.

  2. "Genoveffa lay face down on the donkey, her behind turned up."

    Food for thought whenever I feel like complaining about our decapitated women!

  3. I actually own that version of CHILD OF THE MORNING. It is a superb book despite the 1970s op-art typeface and the RuPaul lookalike wearing the double crown of Egypt (and we won't go into what that looks like).

  4. Anonymous2:18 PM

    I want to read every single one of these! They are cheesy, but I love the cheesy old covers because they make historical fiction look like fun. I've rarely read an historical from that era that wasn't pretty good, or at least entertaining.

  5. Oh my - those are priceless!

  6. I love the author's name on the first cover: Noel de Vic Beamish??????!!!

  7. GREAT covers! How far things have changed in terms of covers. These remind me of the books my Great-Grandma used to give me in high school to read. My Mom would get a look and give me a look . . . but since they were from Grandma, what could she say? :-)

  8. What cool covers! Have you read all of these? BTW, I'm a fan of the Historical Novels Review. Keep up the good work!

    I have an award I'd like to pass on to you over at my blog!

  9. @Lynn - I have a number of those older Lofts novels too!

    @Catherine - Poor Genoveffa. Awful!! And yes, it puts everything into perspective...

    @Elizabeth - Child of the Morning is a great book. It's going to be republished soon with the original retro cover on it (different from this one). It is colorful and different but I'm not really a fan.

    @Julianne - Noel de Vic Beamish was apparently quite a character. Her real name was Anne O'Meara de Vic Beamish. From what I can find, she was an Irish-born playwright and actress who lived in Cannes with her Italian-born girlfriend and the Airedale terriers they raised, and she helped out with the Resistance during WWII. She also wrote a lot of biographical fiction. I have copies of some of them.

    @Laura - My grandmother used to let me read her collection of historical romances when I visited her on vacation. Some of them were pretty explicit!

  10. Thanks so much, Jenny! :)

    The only one I've read of these is the Gedge, which is a perfectly good (non-trashy) historical novel.

  11. Heh, these are classics. Daphne couldn't do better.

  12. @ Julianne. Don't repeat it, but Noel de Vic was a proto-fan of Mistress of the Revolution.

  13. I'm telling ya - those would make an interesting wall display if you framed them and hung them in the foyer.

  14. These are wonderful! I was just a bit too young I guess to read them the first time (judging from the covers, my straight-laced mother would have pitched a fit if I had tried)...thanks for sharing them; I need to start hunting thrift stores and used bookstores again

  15. Sarah, your corner office must be a rare and wondrous place...

  16. Aren't they fabulous?

    Here are a couple of favourites from my collection of oldies

    Henry's Treece's "Invaders"
    Love those horns :)

    and highest of all on the tackometer scale!
    Poul Anderson's "Rogue Sword"

  17. Wow. Very high on the tackometer scale! I'll give them points (pun sort of intended) for lack of subtlety on those two :)

    Susan, what's funny is I hadn't looked at those bookshelves for years. I had no idea so much tackiness was residing there unbeknownst to me.

  18. I'm intrigued now to read the General's Wench!

  19. Anonymous9:25 AM

    I have an old book with the following blurb on the cover:

    "Trashing makes Harold Robbins read like Homer." - Abbie Hoffman

    They just don't make blurbs like that anymore.

    You know, these covers are so cheesy, making fun of them is hardly worth the effort. I'm just barely old enough to remember when all books looked like this, and you had to hide them inside of magazines if you didn't want people to think you were "low-brow" (now there's a concept that's gone out of style).

    But it's worth noting that these improbable images screams "Buy This Book!" They're making a two-fisted attempt to compete for your entertainment dollar with movies and television. Today, the publishing industry is in full-scale rout on that front.

    Why? Among the many reasons is the discarding of distribution channels that enabled publishers to reach new readers, readers who might be persuaded to pick up a book by a fun and exciting cover just like these.

    These covers are awful to be sure, but they also bristle with sex, violence, humor, and energy. Could you resist picking up these titles and seeing what was inside? I know I couldn't.

  20. Good points, Frances. Cleo's Nights in particular looks like a movie poster (is that a Jane Russell lookalike on the cover?). They do invite curiosity about what's inside. For me, I'd want to know if the content matched the art in terms of cheesiness. With the exception of the Marshall and Ross, which are way over the top, it really doesn't.

    That said, someone like me isn't the audience the publishers were marketing to back then -- male readers of adventure fiction, that is. The content may be perfectly enjoyable, but I look at these covers the way I imagine many male HF readers today look at the headless women in their jewel-encrusted gowns - with curiosity and a little bemusement, and a desire to hide them behind a plain wrapper if they read them in public :)

  21. As a professional belly dancer, I'm struck by the number of these covers in which the women are wearing cabaret dance costumes. I want to paper my walls with these!

  22. My grandma used to always have a good stash of historical romances at her house, with some of the tawdriest covers. When we teased her, though, she'd sniff and say, "They're not romances, they're HISTORY. I read them because they're educational."

  23. I've read the Philip Lindsay. He wrote some great books.
    But I want to read the rest.

  24. THE RAKE'S PROGRESS looks like the old Nancy Drew font. Hilarious.

  25. Anonymous8:16 PM

    The covers of the Angelique series by Sergeanne Golon were illustrated in the same outrageously brash and wonderful way. Rakish reading and a rather good grounding in the world of Louis 14th. Wonderful blog!

  26. Those covers are fantastic! And I love the captions under each one

  27. Thanks to everyone for stopping by!

    The lusty captions all come from the back cover blurbs or the first page. And yes, that font does look like the one from Nancy Drew!