8 Great Gatsby Cover Designs Through the Ages

Let me tell you a short little story about The Great Gatsby and book cover design in general. 

An author writes a book. It’s a great book and a publisher quickly scoops up the manuscript. Thus begins the process of getting the book onto shelves, where interested readers pick it up and, hopefully, purchase it. Along the way, the book goes through multiple edits and re-writes, before being printed and shipped to stores. But, rarely in this story does the author have more than a passing opinion on the book’s cover. This is a story that happens over and over again, thousands of times a year.

But here’s something you might not know: authors, for the most part, have almost nothing to do with the covers of their books. (Note: this is beginning to change in the new era of indie and self-published authors, which we’ll come back to later.)

The reason most authors aren’t involved with the creation of the cover is because authors write the book and publishers create the book. And there’s a simple explanation why it works this way: authors aren’t graphic designers; they know next to nothing about typography and layout design. Authors tend to be experts in book cover design in much the same way that your plumber is in an expert on how to make duck confit.

And that’s what makes this next story so incredible.

In 1893, a boy was born in Spain. His family moved to Cuba, where he would be raised, before eventually becoming a designer in Hollywood as an adult. He would go on to perform a one-man show in New York around 1942. For many years, the circumstances and date of his death were unknown (although it is now believed he died in July of 1981 in Connecticut). Other than that, very little is known about the man – except for one small detail. In his life, he designed exactly one book cover.

This man’s name is Francis Cugat and the cover was for The Great Gatsby.

The Great Gatsby Cover Designs:

The Great Gatsby Original Cover DesignCugat’s cover for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gastby might be the quintessential 20th century American book cover and is, undoubtedly, one of the most famous and recognizable book covers of all time. The somber floating “Celestial Eyes” in the dark blue night sky, hanging above the bright lights of the excessive city. The image itself is as much of a representation of the time period as the book. Because of this, the book and its cover have melded into a single entity, each a part of the other.

What makes the cover of The Great Gatsby so unique is the process of its creation and the relationship between the author and the designer. Where most authors have little to no input into the cover of their book, Fitzgerald seems to have been an integral part of the process.

In a 1991 paper written by Charles Scribner, he traces the origin of the cover and discusses the links between the book and its cover, at one point stating that the cover was created before the book was finished and that Fitzgerald wrote the cover into the book.

“For Christ’s sake don’t give anyone that jacket you’re saving for me,” Fitzgerald wrote, “I’ve written it into the book.”

Now what exactly Fitzgerald meant by that is completely unknown, but it is widely believed that he based the haunting, watching eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s billboard advertisement on Cugat’s cover.

From the book:

The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic — their irises are one yard high. They look out of no face… Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness, or forgot them and moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days, under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.

There are some unavoidable differences in the final image and the description of the billboard, but if this is what Fitzgerald eluded to when he said that he wrote the cover into the book, then the collaboration between the author and designer, and the pure artistry of both, serve as an affirmation that the cover of The Great Gatsby is both brilliant and unique in its design.

In this age of indie and self-published authors, where ebooks are being read on a multitude of different devices, writers are finally beginning to take an active role in the creation of their book covers.

Sometimes, that’s a negative and is at least partially responsible for the cookie-cutter genre covers that are so prominent right now. But the same collaboration that took place between Fitzgerald and Cugat can be mimicked by a new generation of writers and designers. Covers can become more than just packaging – they can become art. And the artistry of both is screaming to be taken to the next level, to find brilliance where others settle on status quo.

I leave you with a few other cover designs for The Great Gatsby. Some are good (the Swedish version might even be “great”), but none come close to the iconic image produced through the collaboration of two amazing artists.

The Great Gatsby Cover - Bantam Books in 1945


The Great Gatsby: Released by Bantam Books in 1945


The Great Gatsby Cover: Released by Penguin in 1998


The Great Gatsby: Released by Penguin in 1998








The Great Gatsby Cover: Released by Seacrest Publishing in 2004 The Great Gatsby: Released by Seacrest Publishing in 2004

The Great Gatsby Cover: Released by Penguin Modern Classics in 2000 

The Great Gatsby: Released by Penguin Modern Classics in 2000







The Great Gatsby Cover: Released by Penguin Modern Classics in 2000

The Great Gatsby: Released by Penguin Modern Classics in 2000

The Great Gatsby Cover: Released in Sweden by Thaning and AppelThe Great Gatsby: Released in Sweden by Thaning and Appel


The Great Gatsby Cover: Released by Penguin in 2000

The Great Gatsby: Released by Penguin in 2000


The Great Gatsby Cover: Released by Penguin in 2000


The Great Gatsby: Designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith for Penguin Anniversary Release





August Wainwright is the author of the Remy Moreau Mystery series, which includes A Study in Sin and The St. Mary’s Cipher. He also writes about indie and self-publishing at AugustWainwright.com.


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