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The Importance of Dust Jackets

Every now and again, you will see a news story like this one from 2012 where a rare book has been discovered and sold for a high price at auction – £40,630 for an Agatha Christie book is a decent price, but so often with collectable modern first editions the price is defined by the dust jacket.

Most regular readers don’t pay much attention to dust jackets these days, but once you have transformed from an avid reader to an avid collector then the presence and condition of dust jackets becomes a matter of great importance.

Dust jackets were first issued in the mid-19th century but they were used purely as a protective covering and the book-buyer discarded them once the book was safely in his or her library. In the early decades of the 20th century, publishers realised that dust jackets could be an important marketing tool through eye-catching artwork. However, dust jackets were still thrown away so some early editions of very famous books are rarely found with dust jackets.

The most famous example is the first edition of The Great Gatsby where a copy complete with a dust jacket is worth well over six figures, and it’s the dust jacket that accounts for the vast majority of the price. The Gatsby cover is probably the most famous piece of bookish artwork from the 20th century. An artist called Francis Cugat provided a painting called Celestial Eyes, and the deep blue and those sad eyes have a haunting effect. It’s hard to stare for long at the disembodied face without becoming melancholy. F. Scott Fitzgerald was apparently stunned when he saw the artwork and eager for it to be used on his novel.

A few years back I met a book collector who loved collecting modern first editions but he did not have the money to purchase true first editions of the classics he loved. Instead, he bought later editions at much more affordable prices and then added a facsimile of the original dust jacket. They looked wonderful on his bookshelves.

The Agatha Christie book in question was Poirot Investigates from 1924. The rare dust jacket features Poirot standing with a cane and holding a top hat. Thankfully, beautiful editions of Christie’s books can be found at affordable prices – and many can be found on this page about the queen of crime writing.

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