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  • Book-Jackets of the 1890s
  • G. Thomas Tanselle (bio)

The adoption of book-jackets by publishers in the English-speaking world has produced what may be the most striking and durable change in the appearance of their books since the introduction of cloth edition-casings in the 1820s.1 For about forty years I have been interested in documenting the growth in the use of book-jackets (and other detachable coverings of books) by publishers and have made notes on every pre-1901 example that came to my attention. I gave an initial report in The Library in 1971, to which I appended a list of 262 pre-1901 examples.2 Thirty-five years later, in volume 56 of Studies in Bibliography, I published a much fuller history of the book-jacket down to the present, surveyed the attention that had been paid to jackets since 1971, reviewed their uses as historical evidence, and offered a list of 380 examples of pre-1891 jackets (superseding my earlier list for the years through 1890).3 Now I am presenting a new list for the decade of the 1890s (1891 through 1900), amounting to 1,156 entries, prefaced by a brief account of recent book-jacket news and a summary of some of the information revealed by the 1890s list.


One of the concerns taken up in my recent article was the far too common practice among dealers of moving jackets from one copy of a book to another; and I commented on the discussions occasioned by the 2004 report of a subcommittee of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association that criticized the practice and insisted on dealers’ noting any discrepancy in condition between a book and its jacket (and identifying switched jackets when possible). A few months after the London book-jacket conference for which my article was written, Nicolas Barker published an admirable leader entitled “Sophistication” in the Spring 2006 number of The Book Collector (55: 11–27). Recognizing that certain alterations to a book can sometimes be countenanced if conservation is necessary for the book’s survival, he was appropriately firm in declaring other intrusions, aimed at “restoration,” [End Page 211] to be unjustifiable tampering with historic artifacts—the “crime of distorting historic fact” (p. 17).

One of his examples dealt with remboîtage (insertion of a book’s text block into a different binding) and the other with the supplying of jackets. Even when dealers disclose what has been done, these practices are indefensible: as Barker says, “Remboîtage is wrong, and doubly wrong if the fact is suppressed” (p.15).4 In the matter of jackets, he called for the national organizations that make up the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers to adopt more explicit codes of ethics, with provisions for sanctions to enforce them. To begin the process, he offered his own Ten Commandments regarding jackets. The two central ones, from which all else follows, are the first and fourth: “Thou shalt not have any jacket but the original jacket”; “Remember that thou keep absolute the integrity of jacket and book. Upon it thou shalt do no manner of change or exchange. . . .” Indeed, “no manner of change or exchange” is an elegant summary of the position, for it covers both switching jackets and touching them up. Barker’s commandments should be memorized and held inviolable by all dealers and collectors.

That this hope is vain was reflected in a depressing article that appeared a year later in the May/June 2007 issue (No. 27) of Fine Books & Collections. Written by the magazine’s editor, P. Scott Brown, and ominously entitled “The Anatomy of Dust Jacket Restoration” (pp. 40–45), it makes clear what a lucrative business jacket restorers have, for the demand from prominent dealers exceeds the supply of “expert” restorers. The practice of sophisticated (so to speak) jacket restoration apparently began in the mid-1970s when Peter Howard (Serendipity Books, Berkeley) proposed the idea to John Pofelski, whose job in the R. R. Donnelley binding department was about to end, along with the department itself. Now there is a small group of such specialists, whose work has affected thousands of jackets in the stocks of dealers...


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pp. 211-304
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