Ethel Reed: Cover for ‘Is Polite Society Polite / and Other Essays By Mrs. Julia Ward Howe’, 1895

One of the most popular types of work Ethel Reed created in her short graphic design illustration career was covers and posters for books. This 1895 cover for the book ‘Is Polite Society Polite / and Other Essays By Mrs. Julia Ward Howe’ probably really stood out on the shelf among other books with its super duper vivid red color, and it even stands out a bit among Ethel Reed’s other works for the same reason. There are only three colors present in the cover design: the red of the background, the black ink of the line work and lettering, and a golden color present in some of the floral elements. The super loose but still confident line work on the floral designs is really impressive, I really like how it can appear so seemingly carefree while implying just enough to be extremely evocative of the subject (flowers!). The shape of the whole composition is really interesting too, for a book. I’m not sure if things were less standardized in the 1890’s than they are now, but these days I wouldn’t expect a book of essays to be printed in a landscape orientation. Like pretty much all of Reed’s other works, this book cover fits squarely into the style of the Art Nouveau movement. It’s got the limited colors, it’s got the flowers, what else could you ask for! Oh, and the typography is pretty neat too. Ethel Reed’s designs nearly always used serif fonts, and this is no exception. I think it’s pretty neat how the title of the book is a mixture of capital and lowercase letters, the word “by” is italicized, and the name of the writer is entirely capitalized, then followed by the publisher and such. I think it’s got a nice flow to it.

Image source: