Vintage Harlequins: A Gift That is Eternal

Harlequin has been busy rebranding their covers, and has redone most of their lines with bigger images, smaller banners, and an assortment of other changes you might have noticed. You can see many of the cover designs on this page featuring all their titles on sale at $1.99 each.

But awhile back. MissB2U was going through many (many many many many) donated boxes of vintage Harlequins, and she'd send me a few with the subject line, “Brace yourself, Effie!”

I think Harlequin might have missed an opportunity, here. I like the new designs a LOT, but I'm thinking… well, we need more vintage. REALLY Vintage.

Like, What the hell does that even MEAN? vintage! Have a look, but be ye warned – as I investigated some of them, the descriptions sounded like a LOT of my catnip so now I want to read them all. DAMMIT.


The House of Scissors - Harlequin 175


Now, I'm guessing this has to do with fashion, given the cover illustration, but the description is completely baffling: 

The only women who interested Lucien Manners , they told Arabella, were long-dead ones — like Cleopatra, Dido and Sappho — none of whom had anything in common with an empty-headed model girl, far too young for her age, whom Lucien had described as a “street arab”. Arabella had better just stop thinking about him…

I am… intrigued. (I also had to Google what the hell a “street arab” was – what a lovely antiquated term. Geesh.)

Then MissB wrote, “I just found one called The Silver Sty with a toothsome redhead on the cover.  My brain is a-poppin’.  Is this where you keep your were-pig?  Is this what happens when vampires get an eye infection?  It almost defies contemplation.”

The Silver Sty - a redhead with an older gentleman illustrated in the corner near her chin


I don't think we're talking about infections that make your eye all red and puffy. Oh, yeaaah, it's guardian-ward time! 

Sarah had all kinds of names for the guardian she hadn't seen for years- the GI (Guardian of Innocence), the Myth, Poor Fish- just as she had all kinds of ingenious plans to get rid of him when he came. She wanted no interference in her young life.

Unfortunately, in a mistaken moment of confidence, she told James Fane all about them, before she knew who he was. James was amused- but as her guardian, he was quite prepared to be firm!


And HOLY CRAP YOU GUYS look at the UK cover from RomanceWiki


Alternate cover - A young woman standing over a dude in a chair - she is in a very aggressive posture with her hands on his shoulders


WHOA. I'm a little skeeved by that cover. Is she about to kick his ass? Choke him? Do a lapdance? What the heynow is going there?

And… despite the 2 star reviews on GoodReads, I kind of want to read that one, too.

But wait, there's more! 

MissB said of this cover, “The blank look on her face must be 'Where the fuck is Bahl Bahla?  You made that up.'”


But Australia, I am LEARNING because I took one look at that and said, “I bet that's in Australia” – and sure enough it is: 

To take her mind off the tragic death of her father, Corinne went to work on Bahl Bahla, the great cattle station in the Outback.

There she met Kiall Ballantine, who thought her just a society orchid and misinterpreted the reason for her unhappiness. It was the beginning of a tempestuous relationship.

The quizzical look on her face is funny, but when paired with Mr. Rugged Smirk, you just know it is Business Time. Because when you're from Bahl Bahla, you MUST have big Bahls.

Also – given the new archane terms I'm learning today, I much prefer “society orchid” to “street arab.”

Then there's Behind the Cloud by Emilie Loring: 

Behind the Cloud

My apologies for the teeny cover.

SPEAKING of Business Time, this book caught MissB's eye because the description she found read, “The warm and thrilling story of a beautiful girl alone with the men of an Alaskan air base.”  

Says MissB, “Indeed.”

That sounds like something in the erotic romance genre, for sure, but no, this was published in 1940. And I'm now totally fascinated by Emilie Loring after reading her bio on GoodReads: 

Emilie Loring was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1864 to George M. Baker and Emily Frances (Boles) Baker…. She died in Wellesley, Massachusetts on March 13, 1951. At the time of her death, Loring had sold more than a million copies of her first thirty books. She began writing in 1914 at the age of 50 and continued until her death after a long illness in 1951.

Loring was a prolific American romance novelist of the 20th century, known for her “wholesome love” romances and independent, spirited heroines. Beyond romance, her books also explore a selection of topics including but not limited to marriage, love, American patriotism, freedom, and optimism.

 DUDE. That's kind of amazing.

Here's the more-better description of the book, which doesn't sound nearly as erotic-romance as the short summary: 

When Delight Tremaine joined her brother in an Alaskan air base, she was warned that the young officers there were starving for the company of an attractive girl. She promised to just be “Best Friends with all of them”.

But she did not reckon meeting Lt. Bill Mason, so handsome and yet so maddeningly aloof.

Neither did she expect to meet Captain Steele, who was hard as his name.

Delight suspected that the hatred between these two West Pointers was deep. Was it a girl? Was it a passed up promotion?



CAPTAIN STEELE. Who was as hard as his name.

Oh, my gosh. I have goosebumps of WannaReadThatNow.

(Also – my first thought about the title Behind the Cloud was that Alaskan pilots must be particularly gassy.)

And our final stop on MissB2U's tour of vintage Harlequin covers of excellence: The Feathered Shaft

A woman with a very teased up hairdo with some guy in a blue suit looking at her from over a hedge


Look, if he's trying to tell you that it has feathers, I'd be a bit alarmed, wouldn't you?

I totally Googled “What is a feather shaft,” and found out that it's the hollow middle part of a feather. But this book, this is all about pretending to be the hero's sister: 


For various reasons, Nicola was having to masquerade as the sister of Kurt Thesige. It was a worrying situation, as, quite apart from the ever-present danger that her deception would be discovered, she soon realized that her feelings for him were far from sisterly!


I love how the description answers the question, “Why is she pretending to be his sister?” with, “Because reasons. VARIOUS reasons.” 

Which classic (and 50c!) Harlequins have you read? Any you recommend? Please share! 

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Sally says:

    Please excuse my long post. I have a few vintage Harlequins I would like to share.

    I picked up Dark Star by Nerina Hilliard because of Jan’s glowing review on Goodreads. I don’t remember what happened in the story, but I remember my impression and it certainly was different for a Harlequin Romance written at the time! In a good way. I enjoyed it but just can’t remember it. :)

    I also enjoyed The House of the Amulet by Margery Hilton. The heroine was in some foreign country—I want to say in Northern Africa—looking for her missing sister. Turns out the sister was staying at some rich dude’s place being a body double for his sister? Anyway, heroine eventually gets kidnapped and the hero has to cross countries looking for her. Very exciting stuff. Unfortunately, my copy got moldy.

    The Ice Maiden by Sally Wentworth is very interesting. This is about a group of females trying an experiment with the hero. They want to prove that the hero would fall in love with anyone who looked like his preferred “type” or something like that. So they dressed the heroine up with a disguise, wigs and all, to look like his “type” and stalk him to a ski resort where they contrive to make him bump into the heroine all the time. The heroine is the reluctant party in all this.

  2. 2
    KarenH says:

    The only “classic” Harlequin I can think of is a title worthy of a Redheadedgirl review: “The Aloha Bride” (Emma Darcy).  I wrote a review—well, the review—on Amazon, but warning, there are spoilers.

    Also, it’s got a WTF-alanche of whackery and TSTL from pretty much all three of the major characters.  It’s bad.  Really really bad.

    Paper67—way more than 67 papers gave their lives for The Aloha Bride.  They died in vain.

  3. 3

    Oh man I’ve got to pick these up now. Captain Steele who is as hard as his name. That alone makes me want to squee

  4. 4
    Eileen says:

    I can’t believe it, but I actually have a copy of The Silver Sty!  I haven’t read it in probably 20 years or so.  I just went looking for it and found it in a box of old romances I keep for some reason.  My grandmother (of all people) gave me loads of her old books (60s and 70s Harlequins) a long time ago and this was one of them. 

    The only thing I remember about this book was the first scene where the heroine meets the hero who is her guardian.  She is eating cherries and spitting the pits out.  She comes off as very, very young and immature as best as I can remember.

    I think the hero-as-guardian trope was very popular back then because I recall reading many of them.

    Oh boy, now I have to re-read this.

  5. 5
    Paula Graves says:

    My favorite old skool Harlequin is GONE BEFORE MORNING by Lilian Peake.

    I was drawn to the story of a lit major who couldn’t find a job in her field taking a housekeeping job with a widower who, like her brilliant scientist parents, was a science professor.  As an English major myself, who didn’t want to teach, I so identified.

    She ugly-ducklinged herself and dumbed herself down for the job, but the hero was no fool.  He slowly uncovered her secrets, one by one. I think in the book he compared it to a veil dance, where veils drop one at a time to reveal the woman underneath.

    I remember there was a lot of poetry (that actually had a plot point), a lot of conflict, and the hero actually slapped the heroine at one point when she challenged him harshly about the way he was dealing with his love-starved young daughter. (At least the hero had the decency to be appalled by it, though the heroine too easily blamed herself, although I will say that for a 70s Harlequin heroine, she had a lot more self-respect and independence than most).

    Loved the angst, the drama and the lovely grace note of a final resolution of the romance.

  6. 6
    Selma says:

    I was able to find my favorite vintage Harlequin cover on this website:

    The best part about this book is that it’s called DARK CONFESSOR and yet the cover looks like your average Sweet Valley High novel. Dark confessions; fabulous hair.

    The other great thing is the plot summary: “Surgeon-Commander Simon Redman did not in the least want to take charge of an eighteen year old ward, and Sally Galbraith felt no more enthusiastic about her stern guardian to be. But each of them was to change their mind before the end of the story.” Welp then thanks for spoiling it for us summary writer, geez!

  7. 7
    Mary says:

    I just requested the Emilie Loring book from my library! The description was…intriguing.

    Also @Selma, how old is the hero supposed to be? Because he looks at least 40 in that cover photo and if she’s supposed to be 18…

  8. 8
    Ruth says:

    These are AMAZING. I kinda want to read them all now…

  9. 9
    Janine says:

    I LOVE vintage romance novels, and especially Emilie Loring. I would read them just for the descriptions of the clothes and interior decoration, never mind the spirited heroines and strong but gentlemanly heroes.

    One of Emilie Loring’s books is free online at Project Gutenberg:

  10. 10
    denise says:

    I remember sneaking and reading my mom’s Harlequins. Most seemed set in England with the exception of the Janet Dailey books.

  11. 11
    Lizabeth S Tucker says:

    Emilie Loring was the first romance author I ever read, although I would categorize her books as romantic suspense.  Some were even spy novels.  While home ill with the flu at the age of 11, my neighbor gave my mother a paper grocery bag filled with the books and I devoured them.  Loring explored some unusual subjects long before they were a topic of conversation.  One in particular stuck with me, The Solitary Horseman.  The hero had killed the heroine’s brother while driving drunk.  Remorseful, the wealthy playboy dedicated himself to working for the family, becoming only a substitute son. 

    Now on to the goodies.

    Island Hospital.  Because you always go treking in the woods in full hospital gear.  And the wolf always had me thinking werewolf.

    But no vintage Harlequin cover can be as strange and weird as this one, Virgin With Butterflies.

    Not Harlequin, but still a strange cover with a stranger title, The Moon’s Our Home. A redhead wearing a red Christmas sweater, sprawled in the freezing snow with what appears to be the weirdest looking mittens ever, only one of which is actually on her hand.  And that belt over her sweater?

  12. 12
    MissB2U says:

    This really will be an eternal gift because I ripped the covers off of almost 700 of those books and sent them to one of my best friends in Portland.  She’s an artist and is fermenting all kinds of awesome ideas on what to do with them.

  13. 13

    My favorite vintage Harlequin is “The Falcon’s Mistress” by Emma Darcy.  Not only does it have a sheikh, it has an acrobatic nurse! Who does tricks! ;P

  14. 14
    Andrea2 says:

    Y’all are not doing my TBR mountain any favors.  I managed to read 4 books this weekend and now I’ve gone and ordered 4 of these vintage reads.  Maybe when I’ve finished, I should send them to SB Sarah so someone else can read them after me.  Kind of like a vintage grab bag giveaway, to include three by Nerina Hillard’s Dark Star, the Scars shall Fade, The Time is Short, and Sara Seale’s The Silver Sty. And whatever else you tempt me to buy today.

  15. 15
    Anna says:

    I want to know how, in the first book, one can be “too young for her age.”

  16. 16
    Appomattoxco says:

    My Mom would buy bags and boxes of yard sale HQs for me in my teens and 20s. I used to look at the title pages for initials, names and stars. It was sort of a pre- Amazon review system.
    None of the titles stuck with me [though now that I see them here I know I’ve read them.] but I remember being shocked/puzzled by a 70s one where the h put lipstick on her nipples under a sheer something or other to seduce the H .  I think I mentioned it here before.

  17. 17
    Lindsay says:

    On a 2-week camping trip with the Girl Guides, we brought along a Harlequin from the 40s called [emThe So Blue Marble]. We read it aloud every night and it was absolutely ridiculous. It also really clearly shows that Harlequins were much more about escape from housewife-land as the heroine is constantly eating expensive foods and considering all of the expensive things around her, even as she goes out on a daring adventure.

    I also remember the book filled with animal similes that were just bizarre. “The bus elephanted its way down the street…”

    I went to look it up just now, as I’ve been trying to track down a decently-priced paperback version of it for years, and IT IS NOW AVAILABLE AS AN EBOOK. So I can’t NOT buy it. And read it to my husband. Because the marble… it’s blue. So very blue. So very, very blue.

  18. 18
    Joy says:

    You mean you haven’t read any Emilie Loring!  I’m amazed that one of them escaped the copyright to wind up in Project Gutenburg though it isn’t one of the better ones.  Some of her 50 books or so been re-issued in the 60’s and then some again in the 80’s, I believe.  At one time I had ALL OF THEM.  The ones set during WWII are an interesting insight into the “home front”. 

    They are very “virginal” but the heroines were always described as “spirited” and were what passed in the day for witty and spunky.  A marriage-in-name-only appears in a number of them (one of my favorite troupes. )If you’re a romance fan to HAVE to read one or two of them.  If I remember correctly a few of my favorite titles were Love Came Laughing By,Rainbow at Dusk , Stars in Your Eyes, I Take this Man

    These old best-selling (in their day) romances are interesting from a sociological view-point (and yes, I wrote a paper on this decades ago).  Popular culture tells us more about ourselves, our values, fears, etc. than we think.

  19. 19

    It says terrible things about us in the 21st c. that you could publish a novel with a title like “The Feathered Shaft” and no one would blink, but when I see it, I giggle like a sex-crazed look because, feathered shaft? Really? Circumcision isn’t enough to neaten up your loose ends, you have to add feathers?

    Ah, to live in a simpler time!

  20. 20

    There are a couple of old Mills and Boons I want to get hold of.
    How about a book called, “Tame me! Break me!” by Sylvia Sark. I know nothing about this book except it has a rugged man in a leopardskin on the cover, a wilting heroine and a lion. So a Tarzan book? It came out in 1938. And where on earth is he getting the Brylcreme from?
    Also, the archetypal Mills and Boon title, “Man and Waif,” by Joan Tempest, which certain Presents authors are still writing today. But her profile in Wiki reveals she wrote 175 books!
    “Borned Irene Maude Mossop on December 6, 1904 in Woking, Surrey, England, UK, she was the elder child of Maude Binford Eyre and Robert Mossop, a solicitor, later they had one son.[1] She was educated privately.[2]

    Mossop started writing very young, and after her father death, she started to publishing as Irene Mossop Girl School’s novels. In 1934, she married ex-RAF officer Charles John Swatridge (1896-1964), they moved to a Devon farm, where she continued writing. After her marriage, she started to wrote gothic and romance novels, first as Jan Tempest and later as Fay Chandos. In collaboration with her husband, she published as Theresa Charles, years later, her husband published some novels as Leslie Lance, and after his death she continued using the pseudonym.
    In 1950s, Mossop had serious discussions with Alan Boon of Mills & Boon about her novel Without A Honeymoon when she introduced the idea of a illegitimate child, that he felt she would encounter difficulties with the Irish audience.
    Mossop died on October 26, 1988.”

    and my favourite, “Romance Goes Tenting” by Phyllis Matthewman. There’s even a clown on the cover! (not the hero!)

  21. 21
    Lori says:

    This is wonderful!  My fave oldie is With A Little Luck by Janet Dailey.  This is from her Americana Series. This one came out in 1981.  It’s the typical alpha hero, mousey heroine and a precocious kid. The traditional m/f role and still sooo endearing.

  22. 22
    Ginny Sherer says:

    I LOVED Emilie Loring!  The local libraries had copies of her books, and like some of the others, I DEVOURED them…I also loved Georgette Heyer and Barbara Cartland. 

    At one time, I had collected all of the Harlequin Presents series, but had to give it up because we moved several times.

    There was also an author, Betty Neels, who wrote medical novels that were really great.  She was an Army nurse and wrote great stories.

  23. 23
    roserita says:

    I remember when the library had shelves of Emilie Loring and Elizabeth Seifert and Faith Baldwin and Elizabeth Cadell—all in hardcover because the library didn’t buy paperbacks until the early 70s.  When I ran out of historical fiction and mysteries I started on those, my introduction to contemporary romance (“contemporary” in that they were set after about 1930 or so).  Then the library got a spinner rack and started putting out donated Harlequins, and I started reading those.  I weeded out a lot of old Harlequins a few years ago, and the older ones I still have aren’t as old as I thought (Violet Winspear fooled me—her books all seem to be set vaguely in the 1940s or so—if they were movies they’d still be black and white). 
      My oldest is a Betty Neels called Nurse in Holland (where else?—and has anybody ever worked out the demographic implications of all those English nurses marrying all those Dutch doctors for, what, 50 years?)
      Then there’s The Flowering Cactus by Isobel Chace, who did set her books in interesting places, and gave her heroines interesting things to do.  This is set in the American Southwest, and the heroine is a pianist whose career is ended by an accident.  The hero courts her during a traditional Navajo courtship dance.
      Then there’s Dilemma at Dulloora by Amanda Doyle.  Everything I knew about Australia (especially the Outback) I learned from Harlequins.  They’re not Harlequins, but I do have some vintage Lucy Walkers from around 1970.
      @Lynne Connolly: I have an old Theresa Charles—marketed as a gothic, but really a mystery.  The governess/heroine is trying to protect her charge, a little girl who’s a major Tolkien fan.

  24. 24
    Ginny Sherer says:

    @21, Lori, I read all of her Americana series…When Janet Dailey started writing, she set a novel in every one of these 50 United States….I thought they were great and owned all 50 at one time.  She lived at Branson, Missouri, at one time (don’t know if she still does) and the hero in the book set in Missouri was named Morgan, which is my son’s name (not after the character, but I thought it was cool).

  25. 25
    Cate says:

    O.K … The House of the Scissors ,both the title AND the synopsis sound like a Dario Argento film :)  I so want to read this book…… I just have visions of Mills and Boon doing torture porn

  26. 26
    Lynn Pauley says:

    Favorite Harlequin oldies—anything by Essie Summers. Her first book, “Heatherleigh (New Zealand Inheritance)” was published in 1957 and her last book “Design for Life” was published in 1997. She engendered in me a life long desire to visit New Zealand—haven’t made it yet, but one of these days!
    My favorite is probably
    “Beyond the Foothills”

    I also remember Dark Star by Nerina Hilliard —I still have it somewhere buried in a box in the garage.

    I remember reading Emily Loring and Elizabeth Cadell back in my early romance reading days.

    Speaking of those early days—does anyone remember Glenna Finley—her romances were great, romance and suspense together—I have collected a number of them but not all.

  27. 27
    Heather says:

    I just picked up a stack of 15 Emilie Loring hardcovers (with dust jackets) at a book sale a couple of weeks back. They have great cover art. Can’t wait to read them! Picked up a bunch of regencies by Caroline Courtney at the same sale—turns out that was a pen name of Harlequin Presents author Penny Jordan! Learn something new every day…

  28. 28
    hapax says:

    Emilie Loring, oh yes!  Mary Burchell and her Warrender Saga (holy cats, I just looked her up in Wikipedia:  did you know that she and her sister used the money she earned from her writing to RESCUE JEWS FROM THE NAZIS ???!!! How badass is that?)

    My favorite has to be this one, though: (nope, that slab of phallic thrusting rock in the background isn’t at all suggestive, it’s totes justified in the plot, honest) which was probably one of the very first romances I ever read.  It completely cemented my adoration for nerdy beta heroes, and I was so happy when I finally tracked it down (mumble mumble) decades after I first read it.

  29. 29
    Kay Webb Harrison says:

    Emilie Loring and Elizabeth Cadell were two of my favorite authors during my teen years (1960s). Loved Cadell’s Brimstone in the Garden. I borrowed the books from the library. Loring’s sons continued writing under her name after her death. I believe that the last book was published around 1975; I bought that one as a new paperback. I have acquired others at library used book sales. Two of my favorites are I Hear Adventure Calling (between WWII and the Korean War) and A Candle in Her Heart (post-Korean War?). Jayne Ann Krentz’ work reminds me of Loring’s with the contemporary settings and cultural references and with the alternating POV between the heroine and the hero, and with the romantic suspense elements. Of course, JAK’s love scenes are much more graphic than Loring’s.

  30. 30
    Selma says:

    @Mary The surgeon’s supposed to be older, but not THAT much older. I agree, he looks like he’s going to pat her on the head and give her a hard candy here.


Comments are closed.

↑ Back to Top