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Judging books by their covers

 21/12/2017

Book jackets are, admittedly, a peculiar art which came into its own in the 1920s. Martin Salisbury’s splendid survey, “The Illustrated Dust Jacket, 1920-1970,” describes how utilitarian commercial designs became an “important branch of the applied arts” and gave rise to manuals, guilds and exhibitions by those who saw not only artistic possibilities but also a new avenue of work for illustrators who relied on freelance commissions.

The most memorable ones usually approach a book indirectly. In fact, Salisbury says that “visual metaphor is often more effective than explicit representation in the distillation of the text into image.” At its best, a classic jacket, joining hand-rendered lettering with traditional portraiture and landscape painting, became an appealing glimpse into a book, welcoming readers inside.

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​Book jackets are, admittedly, a peculiar art which came into its own in the 1920s. The most memorable ones usually approach a book indirectly. In fact, Salisbury says that “visual metaphor is often more effective than explicit representation in the distillation of the text into image.”