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Book art

Function or style?

The book jacket was around for nearly a century before it began to be transformed from disposable packaging to a way of selling more books.

By the 1920s, most of the artwork and decoration was on dust jackets, not bindings. Covers exploded with colour and there was space for advertising blurb - even the underside of the jacket was used for promotion.

Dust jackets in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s were often decorated in art deco styles, some of which are worth far more than the books they cover. The most famous example is the jacket on the first edition of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, published in 1925. Without jacket, the book is worth 20 times less than if it had a cover in good condition.

The foundation of the bestseller

The popularity of the novel and paperback today makes it hard to imagine a time when they were seen as exclusively for the wealthy - or with plain book bindings. Jacket art helped books become accessible, infinitely more appealing and hinted at the escapism, marvel and joy to be had from a good story to new audiences.

Today, they are evocative social documents of rare interest, and help us understand and respect an incredibly influential era in creative development.