Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Dust Jackets/Book Covers

The Art of the Dust Jacket.

Anyone who walks past a bookshop today will take for granted the display of assorted books in their eye catching colours.  Dust jackets that will whisper to you of the delights you might expect upon purchase of your choice.  Yet how many of those who pass by will be aware of the amount of thought, creativity, and planning that has gone into the design of those covers?  The Dust jacket must convey to the viewer, by word or design the character of a book that may run into hundreds of pages.  Those who manage to do this have every right to be called true artists.

The Art Of The Dust Jacket.

The dust jacket was an English invention but it was not originally made of paper.  In the early years of the nineteenth century velum and calf bindings began to be replaced by less durable cloth ones and these required some form of covering.  Cardboard protective covers (slipcases) intended to protect the fine leather and watered silk bindings were in use before the first known dust jacket and it was around these covers that book-sellers wrapped plain sheets of poor quality paper in order to further protect the books.  These covers were discarded as they had no value.  It was well into the nineteenth century before the dust jacket as we know it today was to appear. Publishers began to realise that the cover could provide a dual purpose in life, (a) to inform and (b) to protect.  The importance of this would be seen after the First World War by which time almost all books had a printed jacket.

The years between the two World Wars saw the art of the dust jacket being developed and refined as publishers began to understand the relationship between well-designed dust jackets and book sales. At the same time artists who would previously have worked exclusively in the world of fine art began seeking work as commercial artists. Gradually, good book design began to be considered an important factor in the world of publishing.

Today old dust jackets have become valued items. A first edition book becomes infinitely more collectable (and valuable) if paired with its original dust jacket. What was once a throw away item used purely to preserve the book it housed has now become collectable in its own right.  In 2009 a 1925 first edition, first issue copy of The Great Gatsby was sold.  Its most outstanding feature was its remarkably good dust jacket.  The dust jacket was considered to be exceptionally rare and contributed to its record price of $180,000.
My thanks to the V& A Museum for their assistance.
Upper Image: The Catcher In The Rye. A rare copy was sold for $25.000.
Middle Image: Tender Is The Night. Auction value $6,000.
Lower Image:  The Great Gatsby.  In 2009 this achieved a record price of $180,000.
I will follow this post with others.  There is little recorded about dust jackets as they were and surprisingly still are regarded as being of little value.  However, there are many beautiful works of art and I hope to bring some of those to you.


  1. Yet another reason why I don't have a Kindle, Nook, or any other of those infernal machines--as if I needed another reason.

    Good to see you blogging again. Hope exams were OK.



  2. Hi Mak.

    Those that I have completed went very well, however, we have five more to do in May so by June we should be able to relax.

    Thank you for asking.

    Funny you should mention Kindle's as a group of us from college are curating an exhibition entitled 'From Kells to Kindle' an exhibition of book production techniques through the ages. I agree with you, give me a book every time. Kindles have their place but I still prefer turning the pages of a book and seeing a well stacked book shelf/library.

    I will follow this post with some other information on the art of the dust jacket and hope you and others will find it of some interest. Keep smiling.

    Regards to you and yours.