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Dust Jackets from American and European Books, 1926-1947

More than 2,000 original specimens of book jackets from trade books acquired routinely by the Research Libraries.

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I know a secret / Christopher Morley. Digital ID: 490001 I know a secret / Christopher Morley. Digital ID: 490001

Collection History

Despite the fact that dust jackets often include useful information about a book and its author, including biographical notes and often a portrait, it has long been Research Libraries practice to remove the jackets from new books during processing for their permanent place in the stacks. However, from 1926 to 1947, anonymous librarians selected and saved interesting jackets from books of all sorts. Arranged roughly by date published/acquired, these paper covers eventually filled the 22 large scrapbooks presented here. This digital collection offers, first, a view of each jacket's front, spine, and inside flap; jacket backs and flaps may be viewed by clicking the "View Verso" button on the "image details" pages.

The jackets in the collection are from books published in the United States and Europe during two turbulent decades. Throughout, the illustrations and titles mirror the era's changing political concerns and desires. The dominant Art Deco design trends of the early years are evident. Many of the most powerful designs come from the Weimar Republic. The economies of scarce resources during the war years, 1942-45, are not evident in the continuity of graphic design, though the paper is low-grade.

Background

The book jacket, defined as a protective paper cover folded around the boards of a new book, has been in use since at least 1832. Since that time, publishers have exploited the possibilities of text and image printed on the jackets to increase the attractiveness of their offerings. Jackets also provide a means of advertising other currently available titles.

The specimens preserved here represent just a tiny percentage of the books that entered the collection during the two-decade span, and no record has surfaced of the criteria used by the anonymous librarians for choosing which dust jackets to keep. Obviously some jackets have high artistic merit or illustrate a design trend. Others possess no remarkable graphic qualities, but entered the scrapbooks because of the importance or popularity of the author. Ranged side-by-side within years, the dust jackets provide an overview of the graphic design taste and trends of the time, while helping to reconstruct the atmosphere of the annual panoply of an era's published works, with classic titles alongside their less enduring contemporaries.

Related Resources

Findlay, James A. "Brief History of the Book Jacket." In Pictorial Covers: An Exhibition of American Book Jackets, 1920-1950 Bienes Center for the Literary Arts, The Dianne and Michael Bienes Special Collections and Rare Book Library. Broward County (Fla.) Main Library (c1997)

Heller, Steven and Seymour Chwast. Jackets Required (c1995)

Rosner, Charles. The Growth of the Book-Jacket (1954)

Tanselle, G. Thomas. "Book-jackets, Blurbs and Bibliographers." The Library, Fifth series, vol. 26, no.2 (June 1971)

Library Division(s)

NYPL Digital Gallery provides free and open access to over 800,000 images digitized from primary sources and printed rarities in the vast collections of The New York Public Library, including drawings, illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints and photographs, illustrated books, printed ephemera, and more.