• PrintMag

The Jacket Racket: Vintage Book Cover Design

The first book or dust jacket protected bindings from the corrosive effects of the elements. Later it was used to advertise the contents of a book and was routinely discarded before it was entombed on the bookshelf. Interior book designers and cover artists rarely commingled but rather acted like offensive and defensive football squads, although more often like opposing combatants.

During the 1920s and 1930s jacket illustrations were frequently based on a vivid but not always exact descriptions, rendered in a realistic or stylized manner with contempo hand lettering, like those below culled from a salesman’s sample book. The sole purpose of the jacket was to attract and hook a reader, so the artists took many liberties with fact and while this might have been false advertising, the disparity between the author’s intent and the artist’s interpretation was rarely questioned—such was the book jacket racket.

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