Why book readers should thank Lewis Carroll

Let me set up Lewis Carroll’s contribution to our bookshelves and libraries by telling what led up to Carroll’s invention. 

In the early part of the 19th century books were published and sold in unbound sheets. If they were bound, it was done by the bookseller or at customers request. As binding increased, dust jackets, AKA book jackets, dust wrappers, dust covers, came into being. But they were nothing like todays covers. They were wrapped around the book. One had to slice it open, then the cover was discarded. The oldest dust jacket dates to 1829. If you find a book with it’s still intact wrapper, it is either a forgery, or you are soon to be rich.

The jackets with the flaps that fold in came into being in the 1850’s, though possibly earlier as no publisher cared to keep track of such arcane things. By the 1880’s the jackets were in common use, but again, most people tossed them out with the trash. I have books with dust jackets, though I did take one off my “Total Baseball Encyclopedia” because Barry Bonds was on the cover. I inserted the jacket folded up inside the book. No Dodger fan wants to see pictures of Barry.

Here is something for you to ponder regarding these throwaway jackets. A first edition of Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby” is worth about $1,000. If jacket is intact it goes from $20 to $30, 000. By the time you find one the price will have gone up of course.

And we have Lewis Carroll to thank for an innovative practice common today. Whether you have a shelf of books or a small library, you easily find the book you are looking for because the title is written on the spine. It wasn’t always so. As you can imagine it would be difficult to find that special tome. I read Lewis Carroll came up with the idea, but I could not confirm it, so I contacted the Lewis Carroll Society yesterday and this morning Edward Wakeling, editor of “Lewis Carroll’s Diaries” responded. I will quote from his response:

“Lewis Carroll arranged with his publisher, Macmillan and Company, to print the title of his book on the spine of the plain dust-wrapper for the first edition of The Hunting of the Snark which came out in late March 1876. This is the first known instance of a printed dust-wrapper. Subsequently, the whole dust-wrapper was printed with not only the title on the spine, but on the front cover, and with advertisements on the back cover, paving the way for the dust-jackets of today. Up until this time, plain paper was used to protect the bindings of books, but it made it difficult to know the title when the book was stacked on a book-shelf. There are further details in Lewis Carroll and the House of Macmillan (CUP, 1987, p. 121) in which Carroll’s letter to his publisher concerning this invention is reprinted.”
Thanks to the Lewis Carroll Society and to Edward Wakeling. Here is a link to the society. http://lewiscarrollsociety.org.uk/
My books have no jackets, they are e-books and can be found here. http://www.amazon.com/Terry-Nelson/e/B00EEVHN38



1 Comment

Filed under dalies, e-book publishing, humor, Uncategorized, writing

One response to “Why book readers should thank Lewis Carroll

  1. It’s so fascinating sometimes to see how people do things. It seems so obvious to us that books have the titles and more printed on the spine, it’s almost like How did they not think of this sooner?

    Thanks for the Lewis Carroll trivia! Fun facts about favorite authors


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