As readers, we are often concerned with what’s between the covers. We like great characters, intriguing plot lines, and beautiful prose. However, when picking out our next read, we’re often swayed by what’s on the cover: gorgeous illustrations, enticing blurbs, and a great layout. Without these things, we may never crack the book open and give it a chance.
But what’s with the jacket cover itself?
In the 1800s, a dust jacket’s sole purpose was to cover the book in protective coating long enough to get it from printer to owner. This plain piece of wrapping kept dings, scratches, and tears from marring the beautiful leather, silk, or cloth covers of the day.
Fast forward to the turn of the century. At this time, dust jackets were still meant for shipping and disposal, but they had morphed into something a tiny bit fancier. This generation of wraps had a cut-out window to showcase the engravings or embossed titles that were prevalent on the covers.
It wasn’t until the late 1920’s that publishers realized the advertising real estate that dust jackets offered. This was the birth of the modern dust jacket complete with pictures and text used to “sell” the book. Although at this time, these covers were still considered disposable.
In fact, if you have dust jackets predating the 1970’s, consider yourself lucky. Though beware of the stigma attached to this, as these “ancient” dust jackets were preserved more out of laziness on the buyers behalf than out of a sense of keeping a historic paper trail.
Never fear, our librarians were not lazy as evidenced by a quick glance at our shelves. Our older collection is rife with missing covers–the “salable” information cut out of the original dust jacket and glued to the inside covers. On the other hand, our more current collection sports protective coverings on the protective coverings.
Somewhere along the line, libraries discarded the idea of discarding and began using these masterpieces of art and words to showcase the goodness inside each book. The result: a mishmash of covered and uncovered books.
While the books with intact dust jackets wrapped in their fancy, plastic covers may immediately hold more reading appeal, we hope you don’t skip over the books with the plain spines and cloth covers. Those literary masterpieces still deserve your time and attention.
happy reading~ jody
For more information on the history of dust jackets, head over to these blogs.