In The Illustrated Dust Jacket, 1920-1970, Martin Salisbury, professor of illustration at Cambridge School of Art, discusses the life and work of more than 50 artists and illustrators who created some of the most enduring dust jackets of the century, and includes a selection of their work. Salisbury picks 11 of his favorite dust jackets from the era.

The humble dust jacket seems to divide opinion. Some people find it an annoyance and discard it immediately from a newly purchased hardback. Others, such as one of my fellow illustration tutors at Cambridge School of Art, carefully remove them and put them away in a drawer to carefully protect them from damage. The legendary Brian Cook designed the beautiful, quintessentially English jackets for the Batsford travel guides through the 1940s and 50s, now highly collectible. But it is said that Cook’s personal copies of the books would immediately be divested of their jackets before taking their place on his shelves. There is disagreement too about whether a jacket is really an integral part of a book or a mere ephemeral “add-on.” What is indisputable however is that, for collectors, the presence of a dust jacket on a rare first edition greatly increases its value. The scarcity of surviving jackets on many important early editions is testament both to the poor quality of some paper stock at times of economic depression and to the jacket’s perceived dispensable nature.

My own interest in the subject has grown over the years. It began through working as a practitioner, with little knowledge of the jacket’s history and evolution. As a young freelance illustrator, fresh out of art school, I would occasionally be fortunate enough to be commissioned to design a jacket myself. Such a commission was a sort of “Holy Grail” for the illustrator in terms of professional visibility. I shall always remember the thrill of walking through London’s Covent Garden area and seeing a shop window filled from top to bottom with an elaborate display of copies of a newly published novel adorned with my artwork (thanks to the quality of the writing, rather than my somewhat pedestrian design, it became a best seller).

In writing The Illustrated Dust Jacket, 1920-1970, I have endeavored to shine a light on the many wonderful artists whose designs found their way onto bookshelves during the mid-century years, reflecting the changing artistic movements of the time.

Artist: Paul Nash

Roads to Glory by Richard Aldington (Chatto & Windus, 1930)

188 x 125 mm, 7 ⅜ x 5 in.

The painter and war artist Paul Nash (UK, 1889-1946) produced a small amount of commercial illustration and design work, including this striking dust jacket for Aldington’s thirteen stories about the First World War.

© Paul Nash, from the collection of Martin Salisbury, photograph Simon Pask

Artist: Ancona

The Night Flower by Walter C. Butler (The Macaulay Company, 1936)

195 x 130 mm, 7 ¾ x 5 ⅛ in.

The dramatic use of light and dark by “Ancona” (USA) immediately conveys the information that this is a mystery novel (one of only two written by Frederick Faust under this pseudonym) and echoes the film noir genre of the period.

© “Ancona” (Edward D’Ancona), from the collection of Martin Salisbury, photograph Simon Pask

Artist: N. C. Wyeth

Glory of the Seas by Agnes Danforth Hewes (Cassell, 1935)

190 x 125 mm, 7 ½ x 5 in.

N. C. Wyeth’s image for this tale of a young Boston shipping clerk’s desire to travel to California to find gold was first used on the Alfred A. Knopf edition in 1933. Wyeth’s depth of painterly understanding of land and seascape meant that he was in great demand to illustrate historical and nautical drama.

© N. C. Wyeth, from the collection of Martin Salisbury, photograph Simon Pask

Artist: Artist Unknown

Loser Takes All by Graham Greene (Heinemann, 1955)

190 x 125 mm, 7 ½ x 5 in.

The signature “Stevens” is just visible on this jacket design for Greene’s novella. The glamour of its Monte Carlo setting is evoked by the artist’s stylish use of the graphic idioms of the period.

© “Stevens,” from the collection of Martin Salisbury, photograph Simon Pask

Artist: Eric Fraser

Drugs and the Mind by Robert S. de Ropp (Scientific Book Club, 1957)

204 x 134 mm, 8 x 5 ¼ in.

The jacket is one of Fraser’s most strikingly original designs. Dr. de Ropp’s first book introduced readers to the joys and mental tortures of ancient herbs and modern drugs.

Courtesy the Fraser Family

Artist: Milton Glaser

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968)

216 x 140 mm, 8 ½ x 5 ½ in.

It is difficult to imagine a more appropriate choice than Glaser for the jacket design of Tom Wolfe’s account of late-1960s psychedelic drug culture through the experiences of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters.

Reproduction courtesy Milton Glaser Studio, Collection of Mark Terry/Facsimile Dust Jackets L.L.C.

Artist: Aubrey Hammond

Metropolis by Thea von Harbou (Readers Library, 1927)

169 x 106 mm, 6 ⅝ x 4 ⅛ in.

One of the stand-out dust jackets of the 20th century, Hammond’s design juxtaposes delicate color harmony with nightmarish vision.

Collection of Mark Terry/Facsimile Dust Jackets L.L.C.

Artist: Arthur Hawkins, Jr..

The Case of the Demented Spiv by George Bellairs (Macmillan, 1950)

195 x 130 mm, 7 ¾ x 5 ⅛ in.

Created at the end of Hawkins’s career as a dust-jacket designer, this composition for Bellairs’s Inspector Littlejohn crime novel shows him adopting modernist techniques with an angular construction of image and text.

© The Estate of Arthur Hawkins, Jr.

Artist: Alvin Lustig

Anatomy for Interior Designers by Francis de N. Schroeder (Whitney Publications, 1948)

260 x 235 mm, 10 ¼ x 9 ¼ in.

Lustig’s distinctive hand-rendered lettering was a key pictorial feature of the early editions of this striking jacket design. Sadly, in later editions this was removed and replaced by a font—a rather ill-fitting Akzidenz-Grotesk Bold.

Reproduced by permission of the Alvin Lustig Archive

Artist: John Minton

Let It Come Down by Paul Bowles (John Lehmann, 1952)

216 X 140 mm, 7 ⅞ x 5 ½ in.

Minton was the perfect artist to represent Bowles writings of the seedy underbelly of North African expatriate life.

The Estate of John Minton, Courtesy Special Collections, Royal College of Art, London

Artist: Keith Vaughan

A Season in Hell by Arthur Rimbaud (John Lehmann, 1949)

220 x 140 mm, 8 ⅝ x 5 ½ in.

As well as this, perhaps his finest dust-jacket design for John Lehmann, Vaughan produced eight full-page three-color lithographs for the interior of the book, making it one of the most valuable and sought-after examples of the mid-century illustrated book. The images helped to establish Vaughan’s reputation.

© The Estate of Keith Vaughan, All rights reserved, DACS, photo courtesy Dominic Winter (Auctioneers)