I’m not going to pretend to write a pretentious analysis of pop cover art and imagined social implications, nor any other nonsense. I’m neither an art historian nor inclined to see things that aren’t really there. Suffice it to say that these covers are intended to be eye-catching, often titillating, and always bordering on near-lurid, entirely to lure potential readers to buy the book. The accompanying cover copy, the blurb especially, is almost as over the top as the art. This isn’t a criticism, for similar art and copy is often found on the covers of far more notable works.
As for the text inside? Suffice it to say that it’s not comparable, in spite of the cover copy claims, to that of Rafael Sabatini or any other notable writer of romantic adventure. Pirate pulps are almost always extremely light on literary substance and historical accuracy, and quite heavy on cliché. Trope writing in other words. Sheer fantasy in the sense of “never happened.” Pure swashbuckling pirate genre in the form of the twentieth century version of dime novels. Enjoy!
Dark-haired pulchritude menaced by buccaneers both gentlemen and beastly (and probably indistinguishable at times). Panther, reprint March 1965, illustrator listed only on the cover above, as Hayes. Author’s collection.
All the classic elements–sandy shore, duel on the beach, cup-hilted rapiers, palm tree and pirate ship in the background–but for one: the damsel in distress. However, the blurb on the back cover provides the missing trope: it reads “There’s Gold and Women–For Those Who Dare!” The swords are Spanish cup-hilt rapiers of which pirate illustrators are so fond. They’re authentic to the era but only for the Spanish, Portuguese, and some Italians. Ace, 1959, illustrator not named. Author’s collection.
Another by Chidsey, cover art with several tropes: damsel in distress, parrot on shoulder, duel on the beach. The book even describes a fencing lesson, although not quite up to Rafael Sabatini’s standard even if clearly inspired by the scene in Scaramouche. Author’s collection.
Not a novel but several short stories, the first one being “She Devil.” The artwork is of a style often used on fantasy softcovers by the likes of Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs, very similar to the art of Frank Frazetta. Ace, 1983. The cutlass is a fantasy falchion. Cover art by Jodi Penalva. Author’s collection.
More by the author of Conan the Barbarian. Pirate fiction is always something of a lure for writers of adventure and fantasy. For sword aficionados, the “soup ladle” cutlass hilt is anachronistic but commonly depicted in pirate art. Zebra Books, 1977. Originally published in 1938. Illustrator not noted in the front or back matter although the signature is visible in the painting: Barber, for Tom Barber, Zebra Books’s house artist. Author’s collection.
Well, maybe in the tradition of Sabatini and Stevenson but not quite as iconic or eternal. Cutlass and pistol, ships engaged and shrouded in smoke: more than enough to evoke the genre! Pinnacle Books, 1975. Illustrator not noted. Author’s collection.
More from Mr. Silver, this time with buried treasure! Again, the cutlass hilt is anachronistic. Pinnacle Books, 1975. Illustrator not noted. Author’s collection.
Outfight and outlove! Akin to “Make love and war,” perhaps? I can’t imagine a woman pirate would actually expose her cleavage in battle, although an illustrator to an edition of Charles Johnson’s famous early 18th century book on pirates does show Anny Bonny and Mary Read with their breasts exposed, but purely for titillation to lure readers, as in the image above. There is no evidence to support such behavior. Pyramid Books, 1960, originally published in 1934. Illustrator not noted. Author’s collection.
A pirate pulp cover going for pure titillation, arguably more suited to the cover of an Ian Fleming James Bond novel, or at least somewhat in the style of. Signet, 1967, illustrator not noted. Author’s collection.
Another by Shaw, actually published prior to Buccaneer’s Revenge. Cleavage, and boarders swarming over the gunwales, perhaps inspired by the painting by Frederick Judd Waugh. Author’s collection.
A damsel in distress, a duel on the beach or on a quay perhaps, surely in Blackbeard’s lair? It’s been a very long time since I read the book. A better cutlass hilt, though, albeit not 17th or early 18th century. Ace, 1961. Illustrator not noted. Author’s collection.
A 1931 edition of a novel originally published in the second half of the 19th century. Colonel Prentiss Ingraham was a Confederate soldier, adventurer, mercenary fighting for Juarez against the French, and finally a pulp novelist best-known for his stories about Buffalo Bill. The cover art is clearly inspired by — or plagiarized from — Howard Pyle’s painting, “Which Shall Be Captain?” Arthur Westbrook Company, Cleveland, Ohio. Author’s collection.
A 1930 edition of a novel originally published in the second half of the 19th century, written by Colonel Prentiss Ingraham (discussed above). The cover art was copied (stolen) from artwork by Frank E. Schoonover. Neither of these Ingraham “pirate” novels are set in the late 17th or early 18th centuries as their cover art suggests, but in the 19th century, ranging from a Louisiana that never existed except in the Confederate imagination — as might be expected by a former Confederate author — to the Barbary Coast and Sahara Desert. Arthur Westbrook Company, Cleveland, Ohio. Author’s collection.
Copyright Benerson Little, 2021 – 2022. First posted May 20, 2021. Last updated May 9, 2023.
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Tags: Cover Art, Mass Market Paperbacks, Pirate Tropes, Pulp Fiction, Pulp Pirate Fiction By Benerson Little
Female Pirates, Literature, Maritime, Pirate Myths, Swashbuckling Literature, Swordplay, The History of Piracy, Uncategorized, Writing
May 20, 2021
Reblogged this on Treasure Light Press.
Outstanding! I was amazed at how many of those books are on my shelf right now. “Buccaneer’s Blade” was the first pirate novel I ever read, probably 45 years ago. What memories…
These covers bring me back to the 70s when I’d scan the shelves at chain and used-book bookstores for pirate titles. A few of these in the post I’d never read until the past ten years. 🙂