The Nipple Cover











During the 1940's and 50's, censors had a stranglehold on almost every aspect of entertainment. In the publishing business, that meant the covers as well as the contents of books and magazines.

As illustrated in a previous "Oddity" that deals with "Strategically-Placed Flora," illustrators went to great lengths to hide portions of the anatomy they knew to be offensive to the censors where the books were published. Obviously, one of these offensive body parts was the female nipple. It was not odd to see a nipple on an "adult" magazine during the 1920's and 30's (it was common on Weird Tales covers, for example), but post WWII morality brought a resurgence of conservatism to America.

It was with a great deal of awe, therefore, that publisher Ned Pines was somehow able to get Earl Bergey's illustration for Popular Library 147, The Private Life of Helen of Troy, past New York censors. Almost immediately, Bergey's picture became known among book collectors as "The Nipple Cover."

There seemed to have been two exceptions to censors' strict "no-nipple" rule. The first was when the picture showed a work that had been deemed "art" by renown critics. Most book collectors believe that censors thought the Popular Library cover depicted some sort of historically acceptable artistic representation (when, in fact, Bergey simply hadn't been able to force himself paint a breast without a nipple).

The second exception was weirder ... and less flattering when considering those aforementioned conservative morals. It seems that the "no-nipple rule" only applied to pictures of white women. People who argued in courts for less restrictions under the First Amendment started calling this the "National Geographic" rule, because readers were allowed to "see more" in a National Geographic magazine (which often depicted photographs of people from "other cultures") than they were allowed to see in a Playboy magazine. That argument, however, did not phase the courts (or the censors) at all.


The scan of Gaugin, Paperback Library of Art #15, Courtesy of Richard Cohen.