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Dust Jackets for Collectors

My column last month discussed issue points and their importance in establishing a chronology among otherwise identical copies of a first edition. Suppose, for example, you have two copies of a book. One of them has a word misspelled on page 22, line 18, and the other one does not. You can reasonably assume that the copy with the spelling error was printed first because a change would not be made to create an error. Collectors typically seek the earliest examples of the books they collect, and therefore in this example the copy with the error would be more valuable. It must be noted, however, that the book is not more valuable because of the error, but because the error indicates that it is an earlier copy. If you would like to read the whole column, it can be found at by clicking here.

Issue points can occur on dust jackets too-more commonly than in the books themselves these days. This is where it becomes more complicated because books and dust jackets, being completely separate objects, can be paired in various ways to create all sorts of "mixed states" of a first edition.

It all starts with the fact that books and dust jackets are manufactured separately. Most of the cost to produce a dust jacket occurs in the initial design and artwork phase. Actual manufacturing costs are low because a dust jacket is only a single sheet of paper.

Books, on the other hand, carry a lot of their cost in the materials used to make each one. Publishers exploit these fascinating bits of cost accounting in various ways, as we will see. The result is that books and dust jackets are usually manufactured in different quantities-a circumstance that invites issue points.

Let's look at a couple of examples. Consider a first book by a budding young author. The publisher may be conservative in the number of books they initially print because they just don't know how well they will sell. For the jackets, however, printing 25,000 doesn't cost that much more than 10,000 and so they may print extras. If the book takes off and goes into reprints, the jackets are already done. If the book is a flop, no great expense is lost on the extra jackets because the costly part-art and design work-would have been done anyway.

In this scenario you would have "first state" dust jackets on later editions of the book. If the book becomes collectable, the jackets on those later printings would become important to collectors looking to replace lost or damaged dust jackets on first editions (more on "marrying" dust jackets in a moment).

Suppose that instead we are talking about a new book by an established, best selling author. In this case the publisher will print hundreds of thousands of copies of the book because there is no question that they will sell, but they may print a much smaller number of jackets initially. Ironically, the same economics of dust jacket production produce this opposite reaction. Here the dust jacket becomes much more of a marketing tool, and the publisher wants to be able to add early positive reviews, notices of awards, or other timely information to subsequently printed copies.

So under this example there will be numerous copies of the first edition of book, but any true collector will be looking for one in a first state dust jacket-a jacket that will likely be identified by its lack of certain reviews or other information.

You can see how it would be possible to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear if you happened to have the right dust jacket to put on the right book. This is called "marrying" or "supplying" a dust jacket. It is actually a subject of some controversy in the world of collectable books. Purists think it an act of unspeakable evil, and others would do it and never bat an eye. Because people feel so differently about it, I believe a bookseller must disclose it if they know a particular book and dust jacket weren't originally issued together.

That said, however, my personal opinion is that it is silly to place so much sanctity on the original pairings of book and jacket. After all, they are manufactured separately, the original pairing is completely random, and no one can know for sure that a given book and jacket were issued together anyway unless you have had them in your hand since the day they came out of the box. The important (and only verifiable) thing to me is that the correct dust jacket is on the correct book.

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