Today, dust jackets are the epitome of the marketing world. Vivid dust jacket front covers, and spines that yell out – Pick Me, Pick Me!! And the backs of the dust jackets are full of quotations from famous authors or media organizations telling how great the author and/or this book is. This is why review copies are sent out in advance. The author often has very little to say on the visual presentation of his or her work. The publishers see the dust jacket purely as a sales device. And they typically give away too much of the story in the blurb. And sometimes the dust jacket strays a bit away from the contents of the entrapped volume. This has led up to the well used expression – “you can’t judge a book by its cover!”
It has not always been this way. The earliest paper wrappers date from the early 19th century and their sole purpose was to protect the covers of the book until the purchaser gets the book safely home. And then the paper envelope was discarded so the owner and visitors can see the decorative covers of the book. It was very common at the time to have decorated book covers, especially on the gift books prevalent in the 1830s and 1840s. So early dust jackets are very rare, indeed. The earliest existing English dust jacket dates from 1829.
By the 1870s, dust jackets had become common--although in many cases, they were left blank. A letter from Lewis Carroll to his publisher in 1876 provides insight into how dust jackets were viewed in the period. He requested that the publisher print the title of his latest book, The Hunting of the Snark, on the spine of the “paper wrapper” so that the book would remain in “cleaner and more saleable condition.” He goes on to ask that the same be done for his older books, “even those on hand which are already wrapped in plain paper.” Carroll’s letter is evidence of the next stage of dust jacket evolution. From plain paper, publishers began printing titles on the spine of the jacket--allowing customers to view a book from the shelf and know its contents without opening it or removing the paper. While some dust jackets of the 1870s and 1880s did feature printing on the front, back, and flaps, these practices were not common and were instead specific to each publisher.
A fundamental change in attitude occurred in the 1920s. For the first time, publishers began emphasizing the dust jacket instead of the bindings. As the 20th century progressed, dust jackets became increasingly ornate and the bindings beneath correspondingly plain. The golden age of bookbinding came to an end, and the once-disposable dust jacket became an essential component of the book industry.
Let’s turn our attention to this week’s featured dust jacket and book. Let’s start with the dust jacket. I apologize for the photo, as I had to leave the dust jacket on the book, since it is very fragile. And there is a surprise waiting for you – the dust jacket has lots of printing, only nothing to do with the book!
The dust jacket is promoting the local stationery store in Lewistown, PA! The book is a textbook. Unfortunately, I cannot take a copy of the book itself, since I chose not to take the dust jacket off of the book. Here are photos of the title page and its verso.
The Third Reader, by Lewis B. Monroe, Cowperthwait & Co., Philadelphia PA, 1873.
The ownership signature is dated 1877, so I used this as the date of the book’s dust jacket.
The dust jacket is a marketing device not of the publisher but of the retailer. I can think of two scenarios. 1) The retailer had the dust jacket printed and they placed the dust jacket on the book. 2) The publisher printed the dust jacket and placed it on the book – for a fee! And they did this for other stationers in the State of Pennsylvania as well. The dust jacket was not the publisher’s marketing tool but rather a way to reduce their costs!
This book was published some 150 years ago, and it appears to be well done and it has attractive illustrations. But what got my attention, was the author’s “Hints to Teachers”. As a book person, I read these hints and they would apply very well today. It was all about positive reinforcement. Have a look.
And there is a little bonus feature, that I just discovered today. Tucked inside the front flap of the dust jacket was a very neat, homemade book mark, with a little picture glued on.