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Thursday, February 9, 2006

Chapter Ninety-Two, in which Dust Jacket Art is appreciated

Sarah has recently posted a few dust jackets featuring steamships. This started your Bibliothecary picking through our collection for favorite dust jackets. It is often true that one can't tell a book by its cover, but often it doesn't matter if the cover is a work of art itself.

One of the books we acquired last weekend--the one which we hoped would sit on the shelf for a while so we would have the opportunity to read it, and which promptly sold the next day--has a nice clean look with attractive lettering. The art of the lower half of the dust jacket is a form that consistently appeals to us: classic pre-Columbian depictions of life in the New World.

Another category of art that we enjoy can be found on this book. Again, the lettering is attractive, especially the alluring "S." The colorful Baroque style is at once heady and decadent.

Our favorite paintings should come as little surprise. This book features two paintings by the incomparable Vermeer: the titular work, and his "View of Delft" with its famous patch of yellow, "so well painted that it was, if one looked at it by itself, like some priceless specimen of Chinese art, of a beauty that was sufficient in itself...." (from The Captive by Marcel Proust)

We also have a passion for classic photography, more so when black-and-white, that conveys a mix of beauty and melancholy, as well as nostalgia for the past. This fiction title is a good example, and similar images can often be found decorating fine biographies.

Sarah's steamship dust jackets fall into the category we most ardently seek, those produced in the heydey of the 1920s and 1930s. These are almost exclusively hand-drawn, and difficult to find in good condition so that, beyond their personal appeal to us as a confirmed book-fancier, as book sellers we also find strong demand among collectors.

The Silent Partner is sometimes heard saying we bought a book because it looked nice. A beautiful-looking book is certainly a showpiece for any bookshop. We also have a collection of classic paperbacks solely based on the appeal of the cover art. This book was purchased purely for the beauty of its craftsmanship--the clasps give the volume such a romantic aura. We have even acquired books for the look inside, such as the design, the typeface, or especially the margins. Visit BibliOdyssey for a wonderful collection of the fine art of book illustrations, both inside and outside.

Dear Readers, have you ever purchased a book simply for the look?


  1. What a marvellous gallery of dust jackets. Thanks for sharing them.

  2. I like a certain kind of fantasy at and if a book's cover has that style on it, I am hard pressed to resist, even if I think the story sounds stupid.

    Love the book with the clasps. What is it?

  3. What IS that last book with the clasps? Could it be...might it be...The Highly Selective Thesaurus for the Extraordinarily Literate? When, oh when, will you grace us with the contents of its pages?

  4. The book with clasps is an 1876 Norwegian psalm book.

  5. Harumph. Not what I was hoping to hear.

    And you will be quoting freely from The Highly Selective Thesaurus...when?

  6. A while ago, I convinced myself that it was hopelessly shallow to prefer a nice cover over good content, but I am still drawn to pretty things at book sales. I guess I'm like a magpie, always on the lookout for nice shiny things, even though I should know better.

  7. "The Highly Selective Thesaurus for the Extraordinarily Literate" (compiled by Eugene Ehrlich) is for folks who, rather than using the word illusion, prefer to use chimera, Dead Sea fruit, fata morgana, or phiphenomenon. Instead of mixture, they prefer amalgam, farrago, gallimaufry, ragbag, or salmagundi. Not for the keep-it-simple school of writing, but fun to browse in if you are the least bit wordy...

  8. It's the whole reason I own two copies of War and Peace - I couldn't pass up the nice old hardcover at the library sale.