Everyone has a jacket, light weight, heavy, and sometimes in-between. We use them for many things and many reasons, mainly to keep warm. Well, at least most of the time, but sometimes we wear them because they’re pretty and go with our outfits. Men, on the other hand, wear a jacket, say to a wedding or formal event, simply because it’s protocol.

But why does a book wear a jacket; ever wonder about that?

Well I have, and was surprised to learn that the oldest known dust jackets dated back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The paper jackets which appeared in that era were mainly to keep the book clean and free of scratches or tears. Most of us know that a book jacket is a detachable cover, sometimes known as a dust jacket, dust wrapper or dust cover, but during the early 20th century dust jackets were discarded soon after the buyer got the book home. Most people of that era liked to display their books in their original bindings, because these bindings were usually made of exquisite linen or leather and very decorative. The spines were gold-tooled and held important information, not only the name of the book but sometimes the volume number, and of course, the author’s name. Leather and gold, that was quite a nice combination in that day and still applies now.

The price of publishing became higher after 1900, so you guessed it, leather was out and less expensive book bindings were in. Jackets were found less expensive to produce than beautiful bindings, so publishing companies began using them to their advantage. By 1920, most all artwork was left off the bindings and instead was printed on the dust cover. Book jackets became a work of art, brightly colored caught the buyers eye. They became a way to advertise the publisher, the artist, the photographer, and most important the name of the book and the author. By the early or mid-1920’s, people began to leave the jackets on their books, as they were colorful and looked pretty on the shelves of their libraries. These covers were decorated in various art forms including art deco styles which began to catch the eye of collectors.

Then guess what? Dust jackets, by themselves or with the books, became collectibles. The first edition of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, published in 1925 sells for $1,000 without the jacket, and with that famous jacket, the same first edition goes for $20,000 to $30,000. In 2009 a copy of Fitzgerald’s Gatsby in a near mint condition jacket was listed for $500,000.00.

That old saying, “Does the jacket make the man, or does the man make the jacket” should really be said about books. Because in this case I’d say it truly applies. I shall leave you with this thought, WOW, what a difference a jacket makes.

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