The very first dust jackets (or dust wrappers) appeared in 1832 with the sole purpose of protecting books during transport between the printer and the bookstore. The dust jackets themselves were worthless and the plain paper was discarded when the books were unwrapped for display in bookstores. At the end of 1800s publishers began making pictorial dust jackets, but the wrappers were still disposed of more often than not. In the decades that followed, dust jackets became marketing tools that featured beautiful illustrations as well as promotional text about the book and its author. Booksellers began to leave the jackets on for display as they were often more appealing than the plain cloth cover underneath. In the 1920s there was a resurgence of collecting modern first editions, and a widespread insistence on a high standard of condition made the dust jacket more vital than ever. A recent book described as 'mint' or 'as new' was expected to be in its original jacket. Because dust jackets were disposable for so long, today they are considered to be one of the most valuable aspects of a collectable modern book.
Beyond protecting the condition of book, the jackets might offer something unavailable in the book itself. You might find a blurb by T.S. Eliot on the wrapper of an old Faber and Faber poetry book, or an original illustration by a renowned artist. Many of the most recognisable dust jackets were designed by artists handpicked by the author or their publisher. Bloomsbury Group member Vanessa Bell gave her sister Virginia Woolf’s books a distinct modern style. Bell used no more than two or three colours for her book designs, but the dust jackets remain some of the most beautiful in literature. Illustrator Virgil Finlay was a pillar in the pulp science fiction world, and was awarded two Hugo Awards for his illustrations in science fiction books. Finlay designed the stunning cover of H.P. Lovecraft's sci-fi classic, The Outsiders and Others. Renowned children's book illustrator Garth Williams lent his style to countless stories, including Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series and E.B. White's Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web.
Other times the dust jacket designer is a nameless employee at a publishing house. In the case of Go Tell it on the Mountain, author James Baldwin despised the publisher's original design and demanded it be changed before going to print. A few copies of the original design do exist - in fact, it made our list. Some authors aren’t willing to leave the design up to someone else. Evelyn Waugh illustrated a rare edition of Vile Bodies, and Ian Fleming tried his hand at design with a 1955 edition of Moonraker.
We scoured our vast selection of vintage books for the most beautiful dust jackets, and soon discovered that selecting just 30 was a nearly impossible task. This selection ranges from 1917 to 1969, and really is just a drop in the bucket. From abstract design to detailed illustrations, enjoy these gorgeous vintage dust jackets.