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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earliest dust jacket identified

It's official. In March 2009, the earliest known publisher's dust jacket was found in the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. Don't hold your breath and expect an object of great beauty (yes, it is that bland object to the left, above, the righthand image being a detail), but for all that it is a very interesting discovery.
For a start, the dust jacket was different from the modern dj, in that it completely enclosed the book, the overlapping edges being stuck to the rest with sealing wax. This meant that the customer could not see the actual book unless the bookstore provided a browsing copy -- rather like the plastic-wrapped fine artbooks of today. It had a comparable price, too, costing the significant sum of twelve shillings, roughly equivalent to forty-five pounds, or 120 New Zealand dollars, or 65 US dollars today (though I stand to be corrected by a certain economist).

The Bodleian treasure is sans book, the dust jacket being in their ephemera collection, but I find that the book itself was worth unwrapping, having an embossed leather trade binding, heavily embellished with gilt. The contents were top quality, too. Friendship's Offering was published annually from the year 1824, marketed as a Christmas or New Year's gift, and attracted contributors as eminent as the great English critic John Ruskin, the artist J.M.W. Turner, and the poet Thomas Hood. Known for his humorous ditties, Hood's most famous Friendship's Offering offering was uncharacteristically morose:

I remember, I remember
The house where I was born,
The little window, where the sun
Came peeping in, at morn;
He never came a wink too soon
Nor brought too long a day
But now, I often wish the night
Had borne my breath away.

Not children's reading, that's for sure - which it should not be, at that price.

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