The British Library Dust Jackets Collection
The British Library collection of dust jackets is held on loan by the V&A at Blythe House. The collection was started in the 1920s when a selection of dust jackets, mainly chosen for their interesting designs or illustration, were retained and kept separately from the books from which they had been taken. From 1956 to 1991 the British Library removed and retained all British dust jackets as well as some from foreign language volumes. The collection now contains over 11,000 items, the majority of which are from British publications, though a number of examples are from Europe, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, South America, India, Japan and Russia. It can be viewed by appointment at the Blythe House Reading Room.
What are dust jackets?
Dust jackets were first used during the 19th century. During this period books were expensive items bound in fine materials such as leather or silk and displayed as desirable objects. Such examples of craftsmanship needed protection during their journey from the bookseller or binder to the library, and so the dust jacket came about. Initially these were just plain paper wrappers and once a book had been unwrapped its dust jacket was thrown away.
The years between the two World Wars saw the art of the dust jacket being developed and refined as publishers began to understand the relationship between well-designed dust jackets and book sales. At the same time artists who would previously have worked exclusively in the world of fine art began seeking work as commercial artists. Gradually, good book design began to be considered an important factor in the world of publishing.
Highlights of the collection
Artists in the collection
Whilst many of the dust jacket designs held in the collection are by anonymous artists or those whose names may be unfamiliar, there are plenty to be found that were created by well-respected illustrators. The collection includes three dust jackets illustrated between 1926 and 1935 by French artist Edmund Dulac who is recognised for his work during what became known as the Golden Age of Illustration at the beginning of the 20th century. War artists Eric Ravilious, Paul Nash, Edward Bawden and Edward Ardizonne all earned livings as commercial artists in the world of publishing and are all represented in the collection along with many artists who made their names in the world of design.
Helen Beauclerk, ‘The green lacquer pavilion’
Helen Beauclerk, ‘The green lacquer pavilion’, London : Collins, 1926. Illustrator, Edmund Dulac. AAD/1995/8/01/096
Helen Beauclerk, ‘The love of the foolish angel’
Helen Beauclerk, ‘The love of the foolish angel’, London : Collins, 1929. Illustrator, Edmund Dulac. AAD/1995/8/07/101
Helen Beauclerk, ‘The mountain and the tree’
Helen Beauclerk, ‘The mountain and the tree’, London : Collins, 1935. Illustrator, Edmund Dulac. AAD/1995/8/19/057
Martin Armstrong, ‘Desert
Martin Armstrong, ‘Desert, a legend’, London : Jonathan Cape, 1926. Illustrator, Eric Ravilious. AAD/1995/8/01/344
Richard Aldington, ‘Roads to glory’
Richard Aldington, ‘Roads to glory’, London : Chatto & Windus, 1930. Illustrator, Paul Nash. AAD/1995/8/ 9/085
Mary Agnes Hamilton, ‘Folly’s handbook’
Mary Agnes Hamilton, ‘Folly’s handbook’, London : Jonathan Cape 1927. Illustrator, Edward Ardizonne. AAD/1995/8/03/362
Georgette Agnew, ‘Let’s pretend’
Georgette Agnew, ‘Let’s pretend’, London : J. Saville, 1927. Illustrator, Ernest H. Shepard. AAD/1995/8/03/304
Loftus Wigram, ‘Backwards to Lake Como’
Loftus Wigram, ‘Backwards to Lake Como’, London : Peter Davies, 1938. Illustrator, Nicolas Bentley. AAD/1995/8/25/454
Authors in the collection
As well as dust jackets from books that have long since slipped into obscurity, there are some from well-known works to be found in the collection. The dust jacket from a 1932 edition of Jean Cocteau's Opium. The Diary of an Addict was designed by the author himself. There are dust jackets from 14 HG Wells books by nine different publishers in the collection which can be compared to show the way different artists and publishing houses dealt with the work of one author. Similarly, three versions of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels show how the same book is marketed in different ways by different publishers through their choices of dust jacket.
Jean Cocteau, ‘Opium: the diary of an addict’
Jean Cocteau, ‘Opium: the diary of an addict’, London : Longmans, 1932. Illustrator, Jean Cocteau AAD/1995/8/13/243
H.G. Wells, ‘The way the world is going’
H.G. Wells, ‘The way the world is going’, London : Ernest Benn, 1928. Illustrator, M. Alleyne. AAD/1995/8/05/191
H.G. Wells, ‘Things to come’
H.G. Wells, ‘Things to come’, London : Cresset Press, 1935. Illustrator, anonymous. AAD/1995/8/19/072
H.G. Wells, ‘The Bulpington of blup’
H.G. Wells, ‘The Bulpington of blup’, London : Hutchinson, 1932. Illustrator, P. Youngman Carter AAD/1995/8/13/175
H.G. Wells, ‘The croquet player’
H.G. Wells, ‘The croquet player’, London : Chatto & Windus, 1936. Illustrator, Harold Jones. AAD/1995/8/21/064
H.G. Wells, ‘The shape of things to come’
H.G. Wells, ‘The shape of things to come’, London : Hutchinson, 1933. Illustrator, anonymous. AAD/1995/8/15/141
Jonathan Swift, ‘Gullivers Travels’
Jonathan Swift, ‘Gullivers Travels’, London : Putnam, 1927. Illustrator, anonymous. AAD/1995/8/03/430
Jonathan Swift, ‘Gullivers travels’
Jonathan Swift, ‘Gullivers travels’, Philadelphia : J.B. Lippincott, 1928. Illustrator, Sherman Cooke. AAD/1995/8/05/353
The idea of a publishing company having its own 'house-style' initially came to the fore in the 1930s thanks to designer Stanley Morison, a director at the publishing house of Victor Gollancz. The publisher was something of a showman and wanted his books and the advertisements for them to be as visually arresting as possible. In keeping with Gollancz's sense of showmanship, Morison created a bold, instantly recognisable design using strong typography on a bright yellow background. This house-style was used for many years on innumerable Gollancz books. Each book, often crammed with information in varying typefaces and sizes, became an eye-catching, poster-like advertisement both for itself and for the Gollancz brand.
Gollancz also commissioned work from renowned designer Edward McKnight Kauffer who had started his career designing posters for London Underground. His modernist, Cubist-influenced designs had the edge of dynamism that Victor Gollancz required. The publisher disliked the use of full-colour 'realism' in his cover-art, and spurned pictorial dustjackets; Kauffer's semi-abstract shapes reproduced in value-for money two-colour print chimed perfectly with Gollancz's penchant for bold, statement-making artwork.
James Ramsey Ullman, ‘The other side of the mountain’
James Ramsey Ullman, ‘The other side of the mountain’, London : Victor Gollancz, 1938 Illustrator, anonymous. AAD/1995/8/25/519
Bert Birtles, ‘Exiles in the Aegean’
Bert Birtles, ‘Exiles in the Aegean’, London : Victor Gollancz, 1938. Illustrator, anonymous. AAD/1995/8/25/514
Edgar P. Young, ‘Czechoslovakia
Edgar P. Young, ‘Czechoslovakia, keystone of peace and democracy’, London : Victor Gollancz, 1938. Illustrator, anonymous. AAD/1995/8/25/513
Walter Masterman, ‘The green toad’
Walter Masterman, ‘The green toad’, London : Victor Gollancz, 1928. Illustrator, E. McKnight Kauffer. AAD/1995/8/05/564
J.J. Connington, ‘The case with nine solutions’
J.J. Connington, ‘The case with nine solutions’, London : Victor Gollancz, 1928. Illustrator, E. McKnight Kauffer. AAD/1995/8/05/561
Faber & Faber
Richard de la Mare, a director at Faber & Faber, was another publisher who showed a canny understanding of the importance of the dust jacket. In a lecture on book production delivered at the London School of Printing in 1936, de la Mare laid out what he believed to be the essentials of good dust jacket design: the title and author's name should be displayed clearly and leave the reader in no doubt as to the book's subject, the name of the publisher should be displayed, if not in words or with a logo, then, 'more subtly by mere style'. He noted that a good design could be based on no more than a careful choice of typeface and a good layout, 'but an artist's drawing or artist's added decoration ... may help to make a more effective appeal'. Whilst lamenting the fact that 'a mint of money' was expended on creating 'these ephemeral wrappers', he acknowledged that they could be 'little works of art' and 'a real help to the intelligent bookseller' if they had 'all the qualities of good advertising matter'. De la Mare's belief in the importance of good book design helped nudge the publishing industry towards accepting that a book's jacket could be as important as its content in the marketplace.
In contrast to Victor Gollancz's articulate, recognisable, house-style, Faber & Faber displayed a wide variety of design concepts on their dust jackets. Richard de la Mare felt that the individuality of his authors should be reflected in the design of each book and employed a number of well-respected illustrators to create a range of dust jackets for the disparate selection of titles available from Faber.
Peter Quennell, ‘Byron’
Peter Quennell, ‘Byron’, London : Faber & Faber, 1937. Illustrator, Barnett Freedman. AAD/1995/8/23/174
Goronwy Rees, ‘A bridge to divide them’
Goronwy Rees, ‘A bridge to divide them’, London : Faber & Faber, 1937. Illustrator, Eric Fraser. AAD/1995/8/23/173
Karel Capek, ‘Tales from two pockets’
Karel Capek, ‘Tales from two pockets’, London : Faber & Faber, 1932. Illustrator, Dorothea Braby. AAD/1995/8/13/110
Ambrose Heath, ‘Good food’
Ambrose Heath, ‘Good food’, London : Faber & Faber, 1932. Illustrator, Edward Bawden. AAD/1995/8/13/109
Walter de la Mare, ‘The lord fish’
Walter de la Mare, ‘The lord fish’, London : Faber & Faber, 1933. Illustrator, Rex Whistler. AAD/1995/8/15/082
The Hogarth Press
The Hogarth Press was run by Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard and was a smaller, more homely concern than some of the larger publishing houses, beginning life as a handpress installed in the couple's living room. The Woolfs' approach to publishing wasn't innovative or driven by industry in the same way as Gollancz or Faber & Faber, but they did belong to the infamous Bloomsbury Group of writers and artists and so had the talents of painters Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Roger Fry at their disposal. The three artists created some of the Hogarth Press's first dust jackets, giving the books a unique 'arts and crafts' style. Virgina Woolf's sister, Vanessa Bell, was the most prolific cover artist and it was her Post-Impressionist style that came to give the press an identity.
Bell's first jacket was designed in 1922 and was for her sister's book Jacob's Room. It was, according to Leonard Woolf's autobiography, 'almost universally condemned' by booksellers. The design was a semi-abstract image offering no real illustration of the novel's content, but Virginia Woolf thought it 'lovely'. Bell worked on the dust jackets without ever having read the books themselves, and so her designs remained vaguely evocative rather than summing up the text. Her 1927 painting for the cover of Woolf's To The Lighthouse prompted her sister to write, 'Your style is unique, because so truthful; and therefore it upsets one completely.'
Another designer with close links to the Bloomsbury world was Edward McKnight Kauffer who designed several dust jackets for Hogarth, the first being his design for Words And Poetry by George Ryland in 1928. In the same year, Kauffer also designed a modernist wolf's head logo which was commissioned for use on Hogarth Press pamphlets and advertisements, helping to give them a recognisable visual identity and elevating the company to a new level of design-savvy stylishness.
Virginia Woolf, ‘To the lighthouse’
Virginia Woolf, ‘To the lighthouse’, London : Hogarth Press, 1927. Illustrator, Vanessa Bell. AAD/1995/8/3236
Virginia Woolf, ‘The years’
Virginia Woolf, ‘The years’, 1937. London : Hogarth Press, Illustrator, Vanessa Bell. AAD/1995/8/23/266
R.M. Fox, ‘The triumphant machine’
R.M. Fox, ‘The triumphant machine’, London : Hogarth Press, 1928. Illustrator, anonymous. AAD/1995/8/05/304
W. Plomer, ‘Paper houses’
W. Plomer, ‘Paper houses’, London : Hogarth Press, 1929. Illustrator, Roger Fry AAD/1995/8/7/283
George H. W. Rylands, ‘Words and poetry’
George H. W. Rylands, ‘Words and poetry’, London : Hogarth Press, 1928. Illustrator, Edward McKnight Kauffer. AAD/1995/8/05/305