Dust-wrappers (or “dust-jackets” as they are often called), are the detachable book coverings that have been regularly used by publishers in the English-speaking world primarily British and American, since the early part of the nineteenth century. Publishers have been using them as protective devices and containers for advertising media, biographical information about the author, blurbs, pricing and even artistic decorations. Scholars of literature, art, and book history have employed them as sources for biography, bibliographical record, cultural analysis, and the development of graphic design. The most valuable jackets are usually those on the most important works of literature and those from the 1920s and later, which were often decorated in art deco styles such as in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, published in 1925.
The earliest known dust wrappers as we know them today were first established by the publishing industry around the middle of the nineteenth century. They were not commonly used after their conception, and it was not until the 1880s that they became ubiquitous. While not quite as decoratively attractive at this time, simply repeating the title, author and so forth on a plain black, cream or brown paper, they represented an essential part of the book’s total package. Since dust wrappers are relatively fragile, it became quite difficult to preserve their original condition over time, especially for these older books. The quality of paper used improved throughout the nineteenth century with the technological innovation of the knowledgeable paper mill owner, and the skill and pride of the people who made the dust wrappers.
Since surviving wrappers from the nineteenth century are scarce, most having been thrown away by the original purchasers of the books, as well as the fact that the large majority of those that have survived are in fairly bad condition, they are extremely collectible. Furthermore, there are no known publishers’ records that document the use of dust wrappers during this time and any survivors known to exist are usually in only a single copy. As a result they have become important items for the preservation and cataloguing of significant information for this class of material, which will be available for future examination. In effect, the following dust wrapper samples of pre-1900 British and American publishers’ printed books constitute a plea for preservation and guidance to the body of evidence on which generalizations about the history of nineteenth-century wrappers must be based:
– The Picture of Dorian Gray. Wilde, Oscar. London: Ward, Lock, 1891. First English Edition.
– The Red Badge of Courage. Crane, Stephen. New York: Appleton, 1894 First Edition; first printing.
– The Ebb-Tide. Stevenson, Robert Louis and Lloyd Osbourne. London: Wm. Heinemann, 1894. First Edition.
– Captains Courageous. Kipling, Rudyard. London: Macmillan, 1897. First Edition.
– An Island Garden. Thaxter, Celia. Illustrated by Childe Hassam. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1894. First Edition, first printing.
– The Little Regiment. Crane, Stephen. New York: Appleton, 1896. First Edition.
Deciding what a book such as these is worth, either for selling or purchasing, can prove to be quite tricky. There is at least a single copy of each one of these books available for sale on the Internet at a certain amount. But how does the potential buyer determine whether the price asked by the seller is fair? The bibliographic, historic antiquarian appeal of such books suggests that they are not inexpensive, especially the ones by a famous author of a well known story. On the other hand, the dust wrappers do not depict the artistic appeal that an art deco style cover typically provides. The lack of past transactions for such a one of a kind offering deems the task as more of an approximation rather than a scientific determination. Books of this nature are mostly sought after by academics. My experiences with buyers or sellers, for that matter, from academia are that they can be the most tedious individuals to deal with. That is probably why any sale in this space should be considered a good representation of market value, despite the lack of multiple comparables.