Mary Shelley was only 21 years old when she published her first (and greatest) novel, Frankenstein. A small London publishing house quietly issued 500 copies in 1818 of the gothic novel about a scientist who invents a monster that vows revenge on his creator after being rejected by society. On March 11th, the book was finally publicized — to the shock and horror of many. Images of the lumbering creature have evolved and endured through cinema and literature in the 195 years since Frankenstein was born. We’re celebrating this anniversary by looking back at several vintage book covers that reveal a fascinating history of bringing Shelley’s “modern Prometheus” to life.
A 1976 cover with illustration by Mara McAfee — who showed her work alongside Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and other famous figures during the early major pop art exhibits.
Lion’s collectible 1953 edition.
This 1932 illustration from Nino Carbé — a Walt Disney artist who contributed designs to Fantasia, Bambi, and Pinocchio — looks very Aubrey Beardsley.
A 1963 edition from Airmont Classics.
Publisher George Routledge & Sons issued this 1882 edition of Shelley’s tale, featuring the Monster towering over his creator. Seeing the creature without the Universal Studios-style neck bolts and green flesh is refreshing, and in many ways more frightening.
Belgian artist Jean-Léon Huens illustrated this 1960s UK paperback for Corgi Books, with a Flemish/Dutch painting style that allowed readers to see the human side of Shelley’s creature.
Brussels publishing house Le Scribe issued their French-language paperback in 1946.
Fantasy illustrator Boris Vallejo brings Frankenstein into the 1990s.
Signet Classics’ 1965 edition.
Frankenstein’s blocky head, neck bolts, and slow-moving stagger were invented by Universal Studios and brought to life by legendary actor Boris Karloff (with the help of makeup artist Jack Pierce). Universal’s version of the monster remains the most iconic image of Frankenstein since the 1931 film.
A first edition Ladybird Book, circa 1984.
While this book from the popular Crestwood Monsters Series (1977) doesn’t contain Shelley’s complete novel, we wanted to include it for its groovy cover art. The children’s book also mentions the 1910 film version of Frankenstein — closer to Shelley’s work than other adaptations — created by Thomas Edison’s movie studio in the Bronx. Considered lost, the film was rediscovered in the 1970s.
Based on our research, this cover seems to have made its first appearance in the 1990s, which would make sense since Frankenstein is portrayed as more human than monster — indicative of a desire to emphasize the modern in “Modern Prometheus.”
A Romanian Frankenstein cover.
Pyramid’s 1957 cover.