Romance Through the Decades: A Cover Art Retrospective

Series Romance through the Decades

Harlequin is celebrating 70 years in publishing by looking back at its series romance cover art, from the vintage to the contemporary.

Part of this material is based on or taken from an art exhibit titled “The Heart of a Woman: Harlequin Cover Art 1949-2009” that coincided with Harlequin’s 60th anniversary, with permission from the curator Elizabeth Semmelhack.

1949

First publication: Harlequin released The Manatee in 1949. It cost 50 cents.

1950s

Risky Romance: Before making its name in romance, Harlequin printed a wide assortment of books, including crime stories and thrillers whose covers depicted risqué images women and men in high-stakes situations.

A Prescription for Love: Nurse-and-doctor romances dominated in the 1950s and 1960s, depicting confident heroines in the forefront working alongside one of the period’s most desirable hero types, the doctor.

 

1960s

Whisked Away: As jetliners made international travel an enticing possibility, covers showed fashionable women and dashing men in lavish destinations with European scenes and landmarks as backdrops.

The Lure of the Exotic: Romance novels began taking readers to exotic locations where duty, romance and adventure collided, featuring independent heroines who lived daring and adventurous lives. Tropical settings supplied sultry heat.

1970s

A Woman of Her Own: Confident heroines took the forefront of many covers in the 1960s and 1970s with men seen in the background reflecting their roles as secondary characters.

 

1980s

A Rising Passion: Scenes of passion began dominating Harlequin covers in the late 1970s and into the 1980s as heat levels intensified in romance novels.

The Hero’s Story: The Man of the Month miniseries for Harlequin Desire heralded a different type of love story written from the hero’s perspective.

1990s

Object of Desire: Unabashedly sexy covers show off the male physique of Harlequin heroes and frequently portrayed the iconic American hero: the cowboy.

Sexy Historicals: Powerful Regency-era dukes and earls, Highlanders, Vikings and medieval rakes are bowed only by their admiration and unstoppable love for strong-willed heroines.

Heroes and Babies: Anne Geddes’s iconic photographs of babies in flower pots were everywhere in the late 1990s as romance novels began combining rugged dads and babies on covers.

2000s

Romcoms: Harlequin answered Bridget Jones’s Diary and Sex in the City with lighthearted romcoms and chick lit about young women living their lives, working in the city and looking for love.

Diversity of Desire: The widespread appeal of the romance genre is reflected in diverse voices, characters and stories that are enjoyed by a broad readership.


The Rise of Erotica: Harlequin pushes the boundaries of passion on its covers and in the erotically charged stories they hold.


Dark and Sensual:
The craze for paranormal romance brings vampires, werewolves and shifters to Harlequin covers (that’s right, we said werewolves and romance in the same sentence).

Want to learn more about Harlequin? Visit our 70th Anniversary page to learn more! 

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Comments ( 2 )
  1. Melissa Chau
    May 24, 2019 at 6:04 pm
    Reply

    Love the covers of the older Harlequin romance books! The heroines are so very relatable and expressive. All contemporary women dream about living in a world where love conquers all!

  2. Cynthi
    May 26, 2019 at 6:18 pm
    Reply

    Reading Harlequin books contributed to my love of reading, especially for contemporary and Historical romance novels. I remember those style covers of the late 60’s-70’s. I was 14/15 yrs old when I read my first harlequin. I have a girlfriend from where my family had a summer business, and her mother read them; and Lu and I would sneak them out to read them in secret. LOL! Harlequin woman were the same then as they are today…strong, confident, independent. Plus, travel to interesting places. (Great role models for 2 curious young girls back then). And a Harlequin novel will alway be HEA.

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