Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Keeping the Merchandise Clean

Plain book jacket for Lafcadio Hearn's YoumaIn about 1920, flashy book jackets became all the rage. Publishers recognized that a dust jacket could do more than simply protect a book in transit. They put cool pictures on the front and studded the back with catchy blurbs, and the book jacket become a powerful point-of-sale marketing tool--and a collector's item as well.

It wasn't always so glamorous. In the 19th century, book jackets were pretty plain. They listed the author and title, and sometimes the publisher, but were not enticing in the least. Their whole point was to protect the cover during distribution and sale. As soon as any self-respecting book buyer got home he or she would discard the jacket and enjoy the pristine cover, spared the ravages of shipping and handling.

Plain jacket removed from book so flaps are shown. There is no type except the title, author and publisher on spine.
All of that makes late-19th-century book jackets very rare. We are lucky to have a handful scattered in the collections. Lafcadio Hearn's Youma (New York: Scribner's, 1890) is a prime example. You can see it yourself by asking for Val 816 H35 Z5.

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