|Brief History of the Book Jacket|
|The anticipation of opening a
book and securing the key to the literary musings and other knowledge
contained therein is perhaps one of the most satisfying emotions a reader
can experience. Indeed, since the dawn of book making, bibliophiles have
eagerly contemplated the unwrapping of newly-acquired volumes. Often, the
very first step in the process of discovery is the book jacket itself, which
is commonly defined as a "loose cover for a book, usually made of paper and
often decorated with a printed design, which functions as a protection for
the binding and as a means of identifying and selling the book." (Dictionary
of art, v. 4, p. 368- 369). It offers the anxious reader a glimpse of
wonders to come.
Book jackets are thought to have been introduced as protective packaging for cloth bound covers that publishers began using in the 1820s, but they have probably existed since paper was first used to produce books. Before the 1820s, books were bound in materials such as vellum or calf that provided a durable casing not requiring an additional paper covering. Little regard was given to using jackets for advertising until much later. Because they were meant to be discarded, very few early jackets have survived and even fewer have survived in good condition. Historians believe that "the earliest known printed detachable paper covering for a book (illustrated by a photograph) is for The Keepsake, published by Longmans [London] in 1832." (?Book- Jackets, Blurbs, and Bibliographers,' The Library, 5th ser. v. xxvi, #2, June 1971, p. 97).
For approximately the next sixty years the art of book jacket design changed very little. In the United States, "the first known pictorial dust jacket [as distinguished from typographical jackets] . . . was wrapped around William Dean Howell's The Shadow of a Dream, published in New York in 1890 . . ." (History of book publishing in the United States, v.2, The Expansion of an industry, 1865-1919, p. 657).
During the first two decades of the 20th century, book covers were frequently decorated with stamped floral or scroll designs. Often a protective paper covering with a circle cut out to show the author and title was wrapped around the book before distribution. The design and use of book jackets began to evolve gradually as advertisers and publishers realized that "the object of a clamorous jacket is to attract the attention of prospective purchasers of the book as it lies in the window or on the counter." (Publishers Weekly, Sept. 14, 1912, p. 715). Two other innovations occurred early in the century: printing on the flaps and the use of blurbs.
It was not until the 1920s, however, that the modern book jacket became a staple of the publishing world as we know it today. As the American population became more affluent and literate, the fierce competition among publishers for their dollars spawned an explosion of colorful and bold jacket designs that has yet to abate. ". . . in the twenties, . . . a generation of designers emerged to spread the gospel of excellence in bookmaking. For some time, most publishers were unbelievers, but once they understood the prestige and potential sales that could result from making a book look well in all its parts, including, of course, the jackets, the retail shops and their show windows took on a brighter appearance." (A History of book publishing in the United States, v. IV, The Great change, 1940-1980, p. 440.
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