Or dust jackets, if you prefer. Friend Jenny Snider sent me the link to a wonderful post from AbeBooks.com (whose only crime is being a subsidiary of Amazon) that includes pictures of some gorgeous old book jackets.
At the time these were produced, they were still called dust jackets, a term left from the days when books were shipped with paper “jackets” that protected them from dirt and dust until they reached the bookstores.
I don’t know if the authors of these well-known books were permitted to have a say in what went on their jackets; one presumes that the publisher wanted to keep the author happy and therefore included him (or her) in the decisions. Maybe. It’s likely that the bigger the author, the more input s/he had. That’s still the case—except that today publishers rely much, much more on dubious advice from their marketing departments when coming up with book jackets. A book jacket is, after all, a marketing tool.
The problem is that no one really has any idea at all what sort of book jacket sells books. When a book sells well do we attribute the sales to the book jacket? Or to the brilliance of the writing? Or to the popularity of the author? Who knows? Certainly not publishers. Many an author has been driven crazy by a publisher who insists that a truly awful jacket design is not a truly awful jacket design. But the author—unless s/he’s a really, really big deal—has no control over the design. None.
This is not to say that an author would necessarily be a better judge of jacket design than a jacket designer; plenty of writers have no eye at all. The point is just that it’s interesting to realize that there’s no more logic to choosing a book jacket design today than there ever was.
- Look Homeward, Angel, 1929
- Tender Is the Night, 1934
- Call It Sleep, 1934
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, 1943
- Appointment in Samarra, 1934
- Fer-de-Lance, 1934
- To the Lighthouse, 1927
- Stuart Little, 1945
Technically speaking, I probably shouldn’t be grabbing and posting AbeBooks’s photos of these wonderful jackets, but they should be shared. And btw, the only one shown in the AbeBooks post that was familiar to me might be familiar to you too…
FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast
Oxford Exchange, Tampa, FL
Broadside Bookshop, Northampton, MA
Lift Bridge Book Shop, Brockport, NY