The earliest dust jackets, protecting books that were bound in cloth (earlier books bound in leather didn’t require protection), were introduced in the late 1820s. Unlike modern dust jackets (removable with two flaps that fold over the covers), the early dust jackets completely enclosed the book and were sealed with glue. One of the earliest examples can be found at Oxford’s Bodleain Library. The book Friendship’s Offering, an annual featuring poetry and short stories by British authors, was published in 1829. Flap-style dust jackets became more popular during the 1850s, and by the 1880s they became the standard in the publishing industry. Back then, the dust jackets were not ornate and were meant to be discarded after purchase. By the 1920s publishers began creating more decorative dust jackets which were intended to be kept by the book buyer. Sadly, very few examples of dust jackets from the period between 1850 and the early 1900s exist because consumers were so used to tossing out dust jackets after they bought books. (It was inconceivable to publishers and consumers that dust jackets would be so valuable in the decades to come.) However, the dust jacket’s greatest nemesis was paradoxically the library — when processing new books, librarians engaged in behavior considered butchery to bibliophiles — they threw away the dust jackets, slapped on labels, and besmirched the book’s sacred pages with unsightly ink-stamps. The horror!
This historical context leaves us at the doorstep of the question at hand: what is the most expensive dust jacket in the world? That distinction goes to one of the great American novels — The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, published in 1925, featuring a cover, painted by Spanish artist Francis Cugat, that is equally beautiful, enigmatic, and iconic. First editions without a dust jacket are valued at about $1,000; however a first edition with a “fine” quality dust jacket will command an amount that only Gatsby himself could afford: almost $400,000, making it the most valuable dust jacket in the world. Interestingly, the dust jacket is more valuable than the book itself, something that is rare in the world of book collecting. In April 2014, a first edition of The Great Gatsby with a mint condition dust jacket set the world record, fetching $377,000 at auction. It easily eclipsed earlier auction record sales of $180,00 in 2009 and $194,000 in 2013. As of November 2014, Abebooks lists two first editions with unrestored dust jackets: one at $300,000 and another at $150,00 — the perfect holiday gift for your favorite bibliophile.
Of course, what makes the dust jacket so valuable is its sheer rarity. Out of 18,000 first editions, there are perhaps five known copies with mint condition dust jackets. So why are mint condition dust jackets so incredibly rare? You can blame the publisher — Charles Scribner’s Sons printed the dust jacket just a bit taller than the actual cloth book. As the paper aged, it became brittle and was prone to chipping and tearing.
Bibliophiles and fans of The Great Gatsby need not despair if they cannot shell out $300,000 for a dust jacket. Thanks to the efforts of dust jacket archivist Mark Terry who founded Facsimile Dust Jackets (he has scanned more than 55,000 dust jackets!), readers can buy a stunning facsimile of The Great Gatsby dust jacket for $22 — a very affordable price, wouldn’t you say old sport?
For further reading: www.picollecta.com/p/great-gatsby-first-edition-sets-new-world-record-at-sothebys-1000515823