February 2015 | Rebecca Rego Barry

A Trove of Old Dust Jackets

Dust jackets are a twentieth-century invention, right? Wrong. In fact, a dust jacket for a book published in 1830 and found in the Bodleian Library is thought to be the earliest extant example, though printed paper covers for bound books were probably introduced in the previous decade. Still, finding nineteenth-century books in their jackets can be challenge, since many were discarded as mere wrappers upon purchase.   

Trollope_Mastiffs_Inventory copy.jpgNow, an entire collection of 350 early dust jackets, the bulk of which date from the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s and span fiction, biography, travel guides, and natural history, has come to market. Books Tell You Why, a rare book dealer based in South Carolina, will be bringing a selection of representative titles to the California International Antiquarian Book Fair in Oakland, February 6-8.

While well-known authors William Dean Howells, Washington Irving, Kate Greenaway, Rudyard Kipling, and Mark Twain appear multiple times on the list of books in this collection, it's fun to note the more peculiar titles, such as Stops or How to Punctuate (1884); Daedalus, or, the Causes and Principles of the Excellence of Greek Sculpture (1860); Argon, A new Constituent of the Atmosphere (1896); Hassan: A Fellah; A Romance Of Palestine (1898); Vondel's Lucifer (1898); and The Camp Fire Girls In The Outside World (1914). A personal favorite: The Book Fancier: Or The Romance of Book Collecting (1897).

Leaves_of_Grass_Whitman_Inventory.jpgA prospectus that records all of the titles is available upon request for those not attending the book fair this weekend. Preliminary estimates of the collection's value range from $300,000 to $500,000, and bookseller Andrea Koczela added, "While our preference would be to sell the collection as a group, we will offer the books individually."

The University of Virginia recently acquired a collection of 19th-century American and English books in jackets, amassed by bookseller Tom Congalton of Between the Covers. In a post announcing that acquisition, curator David Whitesell wrote, "Relatively few 19th-century jackets survive in institutional collections, and fewer still are available on the market."

Images: Anthony Trollope's How The "Mastiffs" Went To Iceland (1878); Whitman's Leaves Of Grass with Sands at Seventy and A Backward Glance O'er Traveled Roads (1896). Courtesy of Books Tell You Why.