The Bible for descriptive bibliographers, Fredson Bowers, Principles of Bibliographical Description, first published in 1949 and frequently reprinted, devotes barely a page to dust jackets. Bowers calls them 'essentially a detachable part of the binding' and recognizes their 'place of some interest in [the publishing] history of the book', but limits their interest to 'purely historical'. G. Thomas Tanselle, who since 1969 has been collecting information about dust jackets and amassed a considerable collection himself, goes a great deal further and argues their bibliographical importance, as well as their artistic and literary merit. In March 1970 Tanselle read a paper to the Bibliographical Society, entitled 'Book-Jackets, Blurbs and Bibliographies' (published in The Library, v, 26 (1971), 91-134), in which he rightly regretted the general neglect shown for book jackets by booksellers, collectors, and bibliographers.
This paper forms the first chapter of the book reviewed here and is followed by revised versions (with different titles) of two further essays on the same subject, 'Dust-Jackets: The Fate And State of Removable Dust-Jackets' and 'Book-Jackets of the 1890s', published in Studies in Bibliography, respectively in 2006 and 2010. All three chapters talk about the history of book jackets, the attention that they have [End Page 229] received (or not) from bibliographers, dealers, collectors, and librarians, all of whom come in sometimes for praise, but more often for censure. The changes jackets have undergone from their first appearance towards the end of the eighteenth century, as sheaths on annuals and gift books, during their proliferation throughout the nineteenth century, down to their regular use in the last quarter of the nineteenth and in the twentieth century, are set out in detail. The way jackets have been used by publishers, as well as their usefulness for publishing historians, art historians, and literary scholars are expounded. The pebbles thrown into the pond in the first chapter return, but with ever-widening circles, in the following chapters. Much of the information is repeated, but the arguments are increasingly fleshed out as more details and more examples are added.
Tanselle shows the close association between book jackets and publishers' bindings and describes their development from rather plain and simple protective covers for such bindings in the early nineteenth century, to taking over the artistic merits from the plainer bindings beneath them, and becoming artists' products in their own right during the first two decades of the twentieth century. This development includes the gradual elaboration of the printed jacket, giving more information about the book inside and its author, sometimes giving edition or print numbers and prices, and, of course, forming a vehicle for advertising the author's and publisher's output. Authors' blurbs, comments on the book from other, usually well-known, writers, quotations from reviews, as well as eye-catching designs and sometimes unique illustrative material, all served to encourage sales, and now provide us with useful historical, literary, artistic, and bibliographical information.
No wonder Tanselle argues with increasing passion in favour of the preservation of book jackets, and against the deplorable habits of swapping them between copies of the book they cover, 'a violation of bibliographical evidence', restoring them, or even replacing them with a facsimile. He gives guidelines for their bibliographical description, with examples at different levels of complexity, on the ground that jackets are 'part of the original publication effort and therefore worthy of proper treatment in descriptive bibliographies', while making a plea for their inclusion in library catalogue records.
The three essays are mainly concerned with English and American book jackets, including printed wrapping paper and publishers' boxes, but a few references are made to German and French sheaths or slipcases. Most examples date from the last four decades of the nineteenth century: as more and more books were published with jackets, more have survived, especially from the 1890s, and as the jackets themselves, including the flaps, carried more and more information.
134 pages of the book are...