Straight Jackets: the Art of the Book Jacket University of Otago Straight Jackets: the art of the book jacket

Cabinet 2

The book jacket has had a humble beginning. It was originally a wrapper that was used by London booksellers to keep their wares free from dust and dirt. The development of the jacket as an advertising medium was slow, with print and later 'blurbs', appearing about the early 1890s onwards. About 1896, the U.K. publisher T. Fisher Unwin realized that the jacket was more than a piece of paper. He initiated the decoration of fiction books with illustrations taken from an incident or a character in the story. In 1906, he published J. O. Hobbes' The Dream and the Business with a jacket design in three colours on art paper executed by the artist Aubrey Beardsley.

The scarcity of surviving jackets has its origins in the historical practice of removing and throwing away the cover after purchase. This practice has now stopped, not only because book jackets are now seen as an integral part of the book but also their collectibility, especially in the field of modern first editions, and as examples of the work of a well-known or up-and-coming artist.

Some early examples have survived. This photograph is of the earliest extant jacket which adorned Heath's The Keepsake, printed in 1833. This pale buff paper cover is printed in red and contains title and description and publisher imprint (Longmans) as well as advertising.

The Keepsake, 1833.

The Yellow Book: An Illustrated Quarterly, Vol. II July 1894.
London: Elkin Mathews and John Lane, [1894]. Stk. PR 1145 Y44

The Poetical Works of Thomas Hood.
London: Ward, Lock, 1880. Stk. PR 4795 A5 1880

The Poetical Works of Sir Walter Scott.
Edinburgh: Gall and Inglis, 1870. PR 5305 1870

Shakespeare's Tragedy of Hamlet.
London: J. M. Dent, 1928. Bra. PR 2807 A1 1895

Shakespeare's Tragedy of King Lear.
London: J. M. Dent, 1924. Bra. PR 2819 A1 1924


The Poetical Works of Thomas Hood.

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