Dust jackets are all but ubiquitous on hardcover books today, but it wasn’t always so. For a long time, dust jackets didn’t exist, and even when they came into existence, the earliest jackets were unrecognizable from the ones we know today. Early dust jackets were not even regarded as part of the book, but rather something to be thrown away. All of that changed, however, once publishers realized the marketing potential afforded by dust jackets. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Early Dust Jackets
Dust jackets first came into use in the 1800’s. They were simple, unadorned paper wrappers, and their original intent was to protect books bound in leather or silk from the printing house to the bookseller or library. Once the book reached its destination, the jacket was taken off and thrown away.
The trend of decorating dust jackets caught on slowly. One of the first design elements of the dust jacket was actually a small window that was cut in an area on the binding where the publisher had a small picture or design sewed in. Eventually, publishers abandoned the cut-out window and simply duplicated the design on the jacket.
By the turn of the century, publishers were realizing that these relatively plain wrappers offered plenty of space for advertising. Blurbs featuring synopses of the book and biographies of the author started to show up around 1910, and by 1920 illustrated dust jackets were everywhere:
Stylistic developments were made in the art of the dust jacket. Wraparound illustrations took the whole dust jacket – front, back and spine – and created a continuous design across it all. Reduced images appeared on a book’s spine – smaller versions or vignettes of the front cover design. The idea of a recognisable ‘house-style’ for individual publishers was introduced. Yet, still the dust jacket was seen as a throwaway item; once a book had been bought, the dust jacket’s purpose – advertising – had been served.
This attitude slowly changed, however, and by the mid-20th century people were keeping their dust jackets instead of throwing them away. If you happen to have a book that dates from before this time frame with the original dust jacket, hang on to it, as it’s likely worth a lot more due to the rarity of a preserved jacket.
Advantage Book Binding has been in the book binding business since 1985, when we were founded on the principle “we do a quality book on time.” Since then we’ve seen plenty of changes both in and out of the industry. While some have sounded the death knell for books and other physical media, we believe that the fact that we continue to be an industry leader into the 21st century is a testament not only to our longevity as a company but to that of our craft. We think it’s important to keep books and physical media on the shelves, which is why we dedicate ourselves to providing you with the highest quality book binding and post press services available.