Books

The Golden Age of the Illustrated Book Dust Jacket

The Illustrated Dust Jacket, 1920-1970 chronicles the rise of the book dust jacket from disposable object to a creative platform for publishing design.

Spines of books from the collection of Martin Salisbury (photo by Simon Pask)
Spines of books from the collection of Martin Salisbury (photo by Simon Pask)

In the 19th century, dust jackets on books were just protective paper wrappers, thrown away after a book was purchased. The prized cover was the leather underneath, and although some of these bindings had elegant designs, the dust jacket rarely referenced the interior contents. The Illustrated Dust Jacket, 1920-1970 by Martin Salisbury, out now from Thames & Hudson, chronicles how this once disposable object became a major creative force in publishing.

“In view of its origins as a plain protection to be discarded on purchase, and the relatively recent acceptance of the detachable jacket as an integral part of the book and its identity, it is ironic that for today’s book collectors the jacket is key — the presence of an original jacket on a sought-after first edition now greatly adds to its value,” Salisbury writes in the book. The Illustrated Dust Jacket concentrates on the 20th-century heyday of the dust jacket, when artists were experimenting with printing and illustration techniques, and publishers were recognizing its advertising potential. Although the first known illustrated dust jacket dates to the 1830s, this was the era in which it was actively designed.

Cover of <em>The Illustrated Dust Jacket, 1920-1970</em> (courtesy Thames & Hudson)
Cover of The Illustrated Dust Jacket, 1920-1970 (courtesy Thames & Hudson)

“The rapid rise of the pictorial dust jacket through the 1920s and 1930s coincided with the Art Deco period in contemporary design,” Salisbury notes. “Inevitably, the movement’s ubiquitous dynamic, geometric motifs pervaded the covers of many books.” The Illustrated Dust Jacket begins with short descriptions on the artistic movements that influenced these influential decades of book design, and then highlights over 50 of its artists through more than 300 images.

For instance, Ancona, aka Edward D’Ancona, brought a 1930s film noir aesthetic to crime fiction, while Vanessa Bell instilled a simplicity and painterly style on her sister Virginia Woolf’s books.  Other early 20th-century illustrators came from the realist school, including N. C. Wyeth who studied with Howard Pyle, and involved his passion for landscapes and the natural world on covers for the 1939 The Yearling and 1928 Westward Ho!.

By the 1950s there was more of an interest in lifestyle publications that offered aspirational information on travel, food, and home improvement. Heather Standring created designs for publishers in the UK and USA, her meticulously sketched lines with punctuating color adorning the 1954 Mushroom Cooking (she later authored How to Live in Style in 1974). Alongside was a “Kitchen Sink” social realism popular in the UK, as well as the more florid, lyrical neo-romanticism.

“Many of the so-called neo-romantic artists worked across a range of fine and applied arts,” Salisbury states. “Most of the key figures illustrated books and/or contributed jacket designs, leaving us with a mini ‘golden age’ of book designs and illustration.” Hand-rendered lettering by designers like John Minton and Keith Vaughan added to the individual character of these books, enticing the reader with the promise of a transporting narrative.

Salisbury has identified numerous book illustrators, yet a large number of the dust jackets were unsigned, their creators now anonymous. And as he notes in The Illustrated Dust Jacket, even a successful designer such as Edward McKnight Kauffer, known for his use of form and geometry on covers for The Invisible Man (1952) and Intruder in the Dust (1948), was not “widely appreciated during his own lifetime in his native America.” The Illustrated Dust Jacket argues for celebrating the design and art of the dust jacket, and the often obscure creators behind these innovative covers.

Art by Aubrey Hammond for <em>Metropolis</em> by Thea von Harbou (Readers Library, 1927). Hammond’s design juxtaposes delicate color harmony with nightmarish vision. (Collection of Mark Terry/Facsimile Dust Jackets L.L.C.)
Art by Aubrey Hammond for Metropolis by Thea von Harbou (Readers Library, 1927). Hammond’s design juxtaposes delicate color harmony with nightmarish vision. (Collection of Mark Terry/Facsimile Dust Jackets L.L.C.)
Art by Edward Bawden for <em>The Hammering</em> by Hal Martin (Faber and Faber, 1960) Edward Bawden's lino-cutting techniques informed his color-separation line work, where he would often use a knife to scrape away areas of black ink to create texture (© The Estate of Edward Bawden)
Art by Edward Bawden for The Hammering by Hal Martin (Faber and Faber, 1960). Edward Bawden’s lino-cutting techniques informed his color-separation line work, where he would often use a knife to scrape away areas of black ink to create texture (© The Estate of Edward Bawden)
Art by Ancona for <em>The Night Flower</em> by Walter C. Butler (The Macaulay Company, New York, 1936). “Ancona,” aka Edward D’Ancona, used dramatic contrasts of light and dark for this mystery novel (one of only two written by Frederick Faust under this pseudonym) and echoes the film noir genre of the period. (© “Ancona” (Edward D’Ancona), from the collection of Martin Salisbury, photo by Simon Pask)
Art by Ancona for The Night Flower by Walter C. Butler (The Macaulay Company, New York, 1936). “Ancona,” aka Edward D’Ancona, used dramatic contrasts of light and dark for this mystery novel (one of only two written by Frederick Faust under this pseudonym) and echoes the film noir genre of the period. (© “Ancona” (Edward D’Ancona), from the collection of Martin Salisbury, photo by Simon Pask)
Art by Edward McKnight Kauffer for <em>Let It Come Down</em> by Paul Bowles (Random House, New York, 1952). The jacket for the first American edition of Bowles’s second novel employs a technique informed by Edward McKnight Kauffer’s earlier experience of stenciling or “pochoir.” Bowles’s lead character, Nelson Dyar, is depicted metaphorically entering the dark underworld of Tangiers. (© Simon Rendall)
Art by Edward McKnight Kauffer for Let It Come Down by Paul Bowles (Random House, New York, 1952). The jacket for the first American edition of Bowles’s second novel employs a technique informed by Edward McKnight Kauffer’s earlier experience of stenciling or “pochoir.” Bowles’s lead character, Nelson Dyar, is depicted metaphorically entering the dark underworld of Tangiers. (© Simon Rendall)
Pages from <em>The Illustrated Dust Jacket, 1920-1970</em> (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Pages from The Illustrated Dust Jacket, 1920-1970 (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Art by Ric Fraser for <em>Drugs and the Mind</em> by Robert S. de Ropp (Scientific Book Club, 1957) Dr. de Ropp’s first book introduced readers to the joys and mental tortures of ancient herbs and modern drugs. (courtesy the Fraser Family)
Art by Ric Fraser for Drugs and the Mind by Robert S. de Ropp (Scientific Book Club, 1957) Dr. de Ropp’s first book introduced readers to the joys and mental tortures of ancient herbs and modern drugs. (courtesy the Fraser Family)
Art by Alvin Lustig for <em>Anatomy for Interior Designers</em> by Francis de N. Schroeder (Whitney Publications, New York, 1948). Lustig’s distinctive hand-rendered lettering was a key pictorial feature of the early editions of this jacket design. In later editions this was removed and replaced by a font, a rather ill-fitting Akzidenz-Grotesk Bold. (Reproduced by permission of the Alvin Lustig Archive)
Art by Alvin Lustig for Anatomy for Interior Designers by Francis de N. Schroeder (Whitney Publications, New York, 1948). Lustig’s distinctive hand-rendered lettering was a key pictorial feature of the early editions of this jacket design. In later editions this was removed and replaced by a font, a rather ill-fitting Akzidenz-Grotesk Bold. (Reproduced by permission of the Alvin Lustig Archive)
Art by Milton Glaser for <em>The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test</em> by Tom Wolfe (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1968) (Reproduction courtesy Milton Glaser Studio, collection of Mark Terry/Facsimile Dust Jackets L.L.C.)
Art by Milton Glaser for The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1968) (Reproduction courtesy Milton Glaser Studio, collection of Mark Terry/Facsimile Dust Jackets L.L.C.)
Art by Barnett Freedman for <em>The Faber Book of Children’s Verse</em> edited by Janet Adam Smith (Faber and Faber, 1953). Many of Freedman’s book jackets were designed to repeat the front image on the back seamlessly. The design is also repeated on the cover boards. (© The Estate of Barnett Freedman, from the collection of Martin Salisbury, photo by Simon Pask)
Art by Barnett Freedman for The Faber Book of Children’s Verse edited by Janet Adam Smith (Faber and Faber, 1953). Many of Freedman’s book jackets were designed to repeat the front image on the back seamlessly. The design is also repeated on the cover boards. (© The Estate of Barnett Freedman, from the collection of Martin Salisbury, photo by Simon Pask)
Pages from <em>The Illustrated Dust Jacket, 1920-1970</em> (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Pages from The Illustrated Dust Jacket, 1920-1970 (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Art by Arthur Hawkins, Jr. for <em>Barron Ixell: Crime Breaker</em> by Oscar Schisgall (Longmans, Green & Co., New York, 1929). For this collection of stories featuring the intrepid international sleuth Barron Ixell, Hawkins’s highly theatrical design is repeated to create a full wraparound jacket. (© The Estate of Arthur Hawkins, Jr., photo courtesy Hyde Brothers Booksellers, Fort Wayne, Indiana)
Art by Arthur Hawkins, Jr. for Barron Ixell: Crime Breaker by Oscar Schisgall (Longmans, Green & Co., New York, 1929). For this collection of stories featuring the intrepid international sleuth Barron Ixell, Hawkins’s highly theatrical design is repeated to create a full wraparound jacket. (© The Estate of Arthur Hawkins, Jr., photo courtesy Hyde Brothers Booksellers, Fort Wayne, Indiana)
Art by Barbara Jones for <em>The Unsophisticated Arts</em> by Barbara Jones (Architectural Press, 1951). Jones’s dust jacket for her own book is one of the more memorably idiosyncratic designs of the 20th century. (© The Estate of Barbara Jones)
Art by Barbara Jones for The Unsophisticated Arts by Barbara Jones (Architectural Press, 1951). Jones’s dust jacket for her own book is one of the more memorably idiosyncratic designs of the 20th century. (© The Estate of Barbara Jones)
Pages from <em>The Illustrated Dust Jacket, 1920-1970</em> (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Pages from The Illustrated Dust Jacket, 1920-1970 (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Art by Rockwell Kent <em>Mountain Meadow</em> by John Buchan (Literary Guild of America, New York, 1941). The artist’s lifelong preoccupation with the drama and beauty of landscape is given full rein in this spectacular wraparound design. The exaggerated, almost heroic, posing of the foreground figures suggests the influence of Soviet Realism. (© The Estate of Rockwell Kent, courtesy the Plattsburgh State Art Museum, Plattsburgh College Foundation, Rockwell Kent Gallery and Collection, Bequest of Sally Kent Gorton, Plattsburgh, New York)
Art by Rockwell Kent Mountain Meadow by John Buchan (Literary Guild of America, New York, 1941). The artist’s lifelong preoccupation with the drama and beauty of landscape is given full rein in this spectacular wraparound design. The exaggerated, almost heroic, posing of the foreground figures suggests the influence of Soviet Realism. (© The Estate of Rockwell Kent, courtesy the Plattsburgh State Art Museum, Plattsburgh College Foundation, Rockwell Kent Gallery and Collection, Bequest of Sally Kent Gorton, Plattsburgh, New York)

The Illustrated Dust Jacket, 1920-1970 by Martin Salisbury is out now from Thames & Hudson.

comments (0)