A Brief History of Dust Jackets

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A Brief History of Dust Jackets

Book Jackets and Their History

For a while I had this pet peeve that I would never buy a book that was sold with a book jacket, but thankfully over time, those kings of books have mostly been reserved to special editions and I’ve been able to buy the books I want to read on the physical. 

So book jackets or dust covers as they’re also called (never heard that term, but I mostly avoided dust covered books like the plague) were first introduced around 1820. Before the 19th century, book were printed with very simply font and binder simply by either the bookseller, or commissions by the costumer. Since book at this time had no uniform “house” bindings, there was no use or reason for a book jacket. Most book owners did occasionally fashion their own jackets out of leather, wallpaper, fur, or other materials, sometimes imprinting the logo or the name of the book shop to distinguish certain editions from others. 

The first publishers dust jackets appeared by the end of 1820’s. The earliest known examples were issued on English literary anuales which were popular form the 1820’s to 1850’s. These books often hand fancy bindings that needed protection. The jackets that were used at this time completely enclosed the books like wrapping paper and were sealed shut with wax or glue. 

The oldest book jacket known to record was issued in 1829 on an English annual, Friendship’s Offering for 1830. It is three years older than the previously known oldest book jacket, which was discovered in 1934 by the English bookman John Carter on another English annual The Keepsake for 1833. Both jackets at the type that completely enclose the books. 

Book jackets of this type were usually used as wrapping paper and or forms of wrapping of gifts, designed to be turned apart and discarded as a soon as they came into use. The lack of publishing information makes it difficult to determine how widely popular they were in the period form 1820 till 1850. 

Modern style book jackets as we know them, the type with flaps which covered just the biding and left the ext block exposed, date from 1850, and is believed that they were only used as limited editions, but eventually, for their cheaper and easier printing and binding, became more popular there after. 

Throughout the 19th century, dust jackets were discarded at or soon after purchase. Many were probably discarded in bookstores as the books were put out for display, or when they were sold. There is evidence of this common practice in England until the outbreak of World War I. 

The period from the 1820 to 1900 was a golden age for publisher’s decorative bookbinding, and most dust jackets were much plainer than the books they covered, often simply repeating the main elements in the binding decoration in black on cream or brown paper. 

Cloth dust jackets became popular late in the 19th century. These jackets, with the outer cloth usually reinforced with the under layer of power, were issued mostly on ornate gift edition, often in two volumes and often with a slipcase. Other types of publisher’s boxes were also popular in the second half of the 19th century, including made to hold multiple volume sets of books. 

After then 1900, fashion and the economics of publishing caused book bindings to become less decorative, and it was cheaper for publisher to make the jackets more attractive. By around 1920, most of the artwork and decoration had migrated form the binding to the dust jack, and jackets were routinely printed with multiple colors, extensive advertising and blurbs. 

It wasn’t until the late 1940s that actual information on the book, the author and the publishing house was printed on the inner ear of the jacket, and until 1960’s were the author’s photograph included. 

Today, outside of paper backs, dust jackets are quite common especially for special edition book or collectors items. 

And that’s a brief history of dust jackets.

I´m Victoria Marulanda

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