The art form of creating album covers is regarded as the brainchild of Alex Steinweiss of Columbia Records. In 1938, Steinweiss who was 23 years old at the time came up with the hugely successful idea of replacing the standard labels on album covers with original artwork, before this all albums came in brown paper wrappers. This simple idea revolutionised the record business, within months Columbia saw its record sales increase by over 800%. Cover design also opened up an entire new field of illustration, 'album cover art'. As a result of this some of the world’s most talented graphic artists started to gain some well deserved exposure. While graphic artists’ work may have been popular within their own circles, their creations got out to the masses when they began putting their artwork on the album covers of well known musicians.
For 15 years, Steinweiss was the sole designer for all Columbia's records and later also worked for Decca, a label known as much for its musicians as its artwork. He estimates that he designed about 2500 albums. Steinweiss had a strong use of illustration in many of his cover designs as you can see in the examples below. I really like his use of typography in a day and time where there were only limited fonts available. I also like his use of space colour and line.
Check out some of the links below to see more of Steinweiss work and some album covers from other record labels in the 1940's and 1950's.