Once upon a time, books did not have dust-jackets. You know, those paper wrappers that cover hardback books to protect them from....uh, dust. Illustrations were printed right on the cloth covers which presented designers/publishers with challenges. How much would the cloth absorb certain colors? What colors would contrast well? Should designs only be on the front cover or should the design wrap around the book? How detailed can the design be? Should gold be used to fill an embossed image?
What's fascinating is how well book designers solved these problems and came up with designs that are often stunning. We've spent time looking through the incredible collection of book covers at archive.org and are sharing some of the most interesting designs with you in a gallery.
Remember all of these designs are in the public domain. You can use them any way you like.
More information on book cover design can be found at grapheine.com