word craft


Jackets Required

In the world of books—hardcover anyway—the dust jack­et has been around since the 1820’s. Appar­ent­ly, they were cre­at­ed (in Eng­land) to pro­tect cloth bind­ings, which were, now and again, embossed, and some­times even gild­ed. In those days the dust jack­et was meant to pro­tect the book from, well, dust. More­over those jack­ets were sealed like a pack­age, then removed when the book was put on dis­play or, of course, read.

It took a hun­dred years or so for dust jack­ets to evolve into what we know today, artis­ti­cal­ly (we hope) designed to attract the eye of the view­er. Now it’s also just fold­ed over the book, and eas­i­ly removed. That said, if you col­lect rare edi­tions, say The Grapes of Wrath, and the vol­ume has its dust jack­et (intact) it very much ups the price.

(If you won­der why Dust Jack­et retains the name, how many of you keep dri­ving gloves in the “glove com­part­ment” of your car?) I am often asked how I go about design­ing the cov­ers of my books, and peo­ple are sur­prised to learn that I actu­al­ly have no con­trol over that, at least no con­trac­tu­al con­trol. Still, over the years, edi­tors have been will­ing to share ear­ly cov­er ideas with me, and I can give a response. Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing (but not always) my thoughts are includ­ed in the process.

In my ear­ly years some of the cov­ers were quite awful. One such cov­er, Who Stole the Wiz­ard of Oz? took a moment from the book to illus­trate. But the image—a boy and girl—actually reversed the place­ment of the kids, putting the boy in a dom­i­nant posi­tion, while the text reads quite otherwise.

Who Stole the Wizard of Oz covers

In my pub­lish­ing his­to­ry I actu­al­ly offered two designs for cov­ers, which were used. One was Don’t You Know There’s a War On? More­over, the image of the boy (look­ing at him from the back) is tak­en from a pho­to­graph of my son, Robert, which I supplied.

Don't You Know there's a War On? and The Button War

The oth­er design was for my forth­com­ing The But­ton War. The but­tons depict­ed, are in fact the mil­i­tary uni­form but­tons (World War 1) that I col­lect­ed as part of my research for writ­ing the book. I think it unusu­al­ly striking.

That said, when books are pub­lished in oth­er coun­tries the cov­ers often change. Here is The But­ton War, in its UK edition.

The Button War UK edition

I once had a col­lec­tion of Nan­cy Drew and the Secret of the Old Clock (the first in the series). Over the years, while the text did not change, the cov­er did, most­ly in terms of cloth­ing fash­ion and Nan­cy’s haircut.

Nancy Drew and the Secret of the Old Clock

When Pop­py and Ereth was first pub­lished, Bri­an Flo­ca, who did the cov­er, com­plained to the pub­lish­er that they had changed the col­or of Ereth’s teeth. They should have been—as in nature they are—yellow. The cov­er depict­ed them as white. Sub­se­quent edi­tions got it right.

In my library I own a book titled, Jack­ets Required: an Illus­trat­ed his­to­ry of Amer­i­can Book Jack­et Design, 1920–1950. Many of the cov­ers are quite stun­ning. Great cov­ers are sad­ly rare.

Jackets Required

My guess is that books with poor­ly designed dust jack­ets more often than not, well, col­lect dust.

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