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The Mystery League, Inc. Dust Jackets

· Fine Book Collecting,Picture Books,The Mystery League,Dust Jacket Art,Illustrated Books

As readers of my musings know by now, I love pictures! Pictures go straight to the brain and since everyone is wired differently, some people will like, some will be indifferent, and others will dislike the same graphic picture. For instance, I love Art Nouveau and Art Deco and Glenda hates it.

So, pictures figure big in both our personal library and in the books for sale by Raven & Gryphon Fine Books. Art and illustrated books are to be found in both book groupings. And bookplates and dust jackets are all about pictures too. Most books with bookplates reside in the personal library and books with distinctive and unusual dust jackets stay there as well.

Dust jackets started to become a significant marketing tool in the early twentieth century. Eventually, there was a common refrain “Don’t buy a book by its cover”! Well, many of us do and publishers figured that out very early. Authors don’t control the design of the book jacket very often which does lead to sometimes baffling differences between the text of a book and its dust jacket.

The Mystery League, Inc. publishing company started in 1930, in order to take advantage of the
then, detective fiction craze. Post the stock market crash and heading into the Great Depression, their economic model was to sell their detective novels cheaply, through innovative channels, but to produce books that were well designed in dust jackets that would sell, sell, sell! Their books sold for only $.50 initially and their main distribution points were United Cigar Stores, followed by Whelan Drugstores, followed by discount department stores. And they did not pay much for their product. They reprinted works of some known authors such as Edgar Wallace, and they commissioned novels from rather poor writers, such as Sydney Horler. Their books, however, were well designed and made; the dust jacket art was innovative and eye-catching, and the low price made them even more attractive.

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The majority of the dust jackets were by “Gene”. Not much is known about him except that his name was Eugene Thurston and that he was only in his twenties when he started to produce cover art for the publisher. Most collectors today, like me, collect The Mystery League, Inc. books not because of the content but because of Gene. I’ve found his work on a dust jacket for another publisher, not a mystery but knew it was Gene as soon as I saw it.

The Mystery League, Inc lasted for five and a half years. But their mark on book selling was of foundational importance. After World War II, Simon & Schuster created the cheaply priced, mass market paperback, Pocket Books, following the same economic model.

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