Dust Jackets, Anyone?

By Laura Herrera

Like a sweater to protect you from the cold, a dust jacket protects the binding of a hardcover book.

About 10 years ago, a curator at a library in Oxford discovered the oldest known publisher’s dust jacket was on an 1830 English annual, Friendship’s Offering. Dust jackets were originally plainer jackets to protect the value of the decorative book binding. Often, when purchased, the buyers would discard the dust jacket – in much the same way we now tend to toss unwanted disposable bags – preferring to showcase their decorative and oftentimes precisely detailed hardcover books.

What you see now on hardcovers is the similar flap style dust jacket that has been around since at least the late 1850s – first in England, and then in the U.S. around 1865. Around the end of the American Civil War and the surrender of the confederate states.

Dust jacket covers can be incredibly colorful and detailed – meant to draw your attention, providing information to a potential reader that would not be available if the book had no dust jacket. There is an inside flap with text (which teases and hooks you), and an inside back flap (typically an author bio). And, too, the dust jacket back panel usually includes a variety of impactful quotes.

Visit The Paris Review for a look at Twelve Illustrated Dust Jackets, which includes Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test (Wow! Wildly colorful!)

Trends come and go, certainly. Remember covering your school textbooks with paper bags? Go out on Pinterest to see how some use Kraft paper to cover their books, and stamp the title on the spine, preferring uniformity on their library shelves. Others consider dust jackets a nuisance, so they toss them, and group their hardcover books by color or author or subject.

What is your preference? Do you keep dust jackets on your books? Are they additionally useful as bookmarks?


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