Playboy’s Greatest Covers, the new compendium from longtime Playboy contributor Damon Brown, takes classic covers from the iconic, troubled men’s magazine’s near 60-year history out from under the bed and places them squarely on the coffee table. The collection comprises 200 of the magazine’s most salient covers since its first issue in December 1953 (cover girl: Marilyn Monroe), tracing evolving trends in design, photography, and distorted perceptions of beauty along the way.
To create the book, Brown pored over the Playboy archives with the perma-robed founder and editor-in-chief himself, Hugh Hefner. The final result breaks the magazine down into five eras, covering the wholesome 50’s, the progressive ’60s, the smutty ’70s, the celebrity-obsessed ’80s, and the modern day.
“It definitely reflects wider cultural shifts, whether it be the hippies on the early 60’s covers or the celebrities-of-the-month popping up in the 00’s,” Brown says. “The question I tried to answer was if Playboy began trends, jumped in just ahead of the curve, or simply followed the lead. I found that Hefner’s magazine did all three over the years, its most progressive years being in the late ’60s.”
Casual observers may think they have a pretty clear idea of exactly how Playboy has managed to draw eyeballs over the years, but an examination of Greatest Covers reveals choices that range from the unpredictable (Barbara Streisand!) to the winkingly abstract.
“One of strongest covers simply has a woman licking a Playboy icon stamp,” says Brown. “Her tongue isn’t particularly provocative, but Playboy ran with this cover at a time when its competitors crammed as much T & A on the newsstand front as possible. Playboy’s attempts at sophistication don’t always work, but there is clearly an effort throughout the years.”
Take a look at some of the covers in the gallery above.