Dirda, who refers to Tanselle as the “leading authority on all matters bibliographical, the greatest American textual scholar since Fredson Bowers,” explains the book as “a superb work of scholarly investigation, broad enough to touch on the development of blurbs, the artists involved in early cover design and the need for accurate description of dust jackets in library catalogues.”
Another review by the Book Patrol blog posted yesterday says the book “provides a thorough history of a books most valuable friend and can easily prove useful for the bookseller, book collector or any lover of books.”
Illustrated with sections containing black-and-white and color plates, this new book offers a concise history of publishers’ detachable book coverings while surveying their use by publishers and their usefulness to scholars as sources for biography, bibliography, and cultural analysis. It contains a list of surviving pre-1901 examples of British and American publishers’ printed book-jackets and constitutes a plea for the preservation and cataloguing of this significant class of material.
Click here for more information on the book.
One of the best things about working for a small company like Oak Knoll is the opportunity to do a little bit of everything (also see Rob’s post on photography!). In addition to the day-to-day tasks involved with my job as publishing director, like drafting contracts, checking proofs, and correspondence with authors, editors, and designers, I occasionally have the chance to try my hand at some design work. This summer in particular, I’ve been able to get my creative juices flowing by designing dust jackets for two of our upcoming titles, Arthur Miller: A Descriptive Bibliography and Dr. Rosenbach and Mr. Lilly.
At Oak Knoll, every project is different in terms of schedule, budget, and project logistics. Sometimes our authors design their own jackets, sometimes we hire freelance designers who do the book and jacket design, and sometimes we have the privilege of doing it ourselves, in house. While I have no formal training in graphic design, I’ve picked up a lot of tips during my time at Oak Knoll as I’ve reviewed and imitated the work of more experienced designers. The two jackets below were a lot of fun for me to work on. Let me know what you think!
- Laura Williams, Publishing Director
This excerpt from Books for Sale: The Advertising and Promotion of Print since the Fifteenth Century edited by Robin Myers, Michael Harris and Giles Mandelbrote discusses the dust jacket and how its role has developed through history.
Despite recognizing the real commercial significance of book jackets in the post-war period, Blond does not consider their importance as works of art. Tanselle sounds slightly aggrieved about this distraction from serious bibliography in his articles published in 1971 and 2003. As a bibliographer, he may be right. Many admirers of book jackets would find travel posters of the same period equally entertaining. However, the contribution made by artists, especially in the 1920s and 1930s, was exceptional and we should not be apologetic about it. This has never had a clear correspondence to their commercial
function. Various types of artists were involved. Some, such as E. McKnight Kauffer, Barnett Freedman, Edward Bawden or Rex
Whistler, were highly skilled and inventive. They shared a literary proclivity, and happened to find jacket design a congenial task with useful commercial rewards. Other artists attempted book jackets only rarely, and usually out of friendship with the author which was tolerated by the publisher—such as the jacket by Ben Nicholson for Stones of Rimini by Adrian Stokes, published by Faber & Faber in 1934. This is a surrealistic photomontage—fascinating as an example of Lye’s work, and related to his experimental films of the period, but only distantly related to the content of the book and surely too avant-garde for most of its readers to appreciate.
Book jackets could, however, become important as carriers of avant-garde styles into the homes and minds of people who would not have encountered these forms of art. The process began early, with the abstract simplification of form that suited clear colour printing, and kept in step with the cultural aspirations of publishers. Between 1945 and 1952, the series of covers by Alvin Lustig for New Directions books in the USA, which were academic paperbacks of literary texts, made a particular mark for their use of freely drawn abstract forms, aptly matched to the mood of the title.
In Britian, hand-drawn lettering, with little or no drawm imagery, was popular in the interwar period. The revival of calligraphy and fine lettering began after 1900 with the teaching of Edward Johnston, and many students acquired these skills from Johnston’s successors. Notable designers were Michael Harvey and Madeleine Dinkel. Hans Tisdall, who designed many jackets for Jonathan Cape, came from Germany in the 1930s, having trained as a signwriter, and the long fluid strokes of his letters are from a completely different background from Johnston’s. Tisdall’s work has returned to fashion, probably following on from Michael Harvey’s article in baseline no. 37 (2002), and has been cleverly pastiched in the book covers of Sarah Waters’s novel.
Today, book jackets and paperback covers have an important role as metonyms in online bookselling, where they are invariable reproduced as part of the sales information. Recently, book reviews in newspapers and magazines have used thumbnail images of jackets in a similar way. Here the image is all and the shop is only virtual, although a subliminal memory of the design may help the distracted bookshop visitor to recall a positive or negative comment from weeks or months earlier when considering whether or not to buy. Posters of historic book jackets are displayed in shops advertised in color supplements.
Publishers seem to have awoken to a revived interest in design. They seldom seek to impose a house style, but are more inclined to play up individual titles to emphasize their genre. In doing this, pastiche is rife, and it seems that the revival in the historiography of book jackets of the past ten years has begun to feed back into the designs of today.
Click here for more information on how to order Books for Sale.