Skip to content

A dust jacket is a detatchable cover with flaps which fold between the boards of a book and its endpapers. When commercially produced, these jackets are frequently colourful works of art.

Some nineteenth century books were published with dust jackets (sometimes referred to as 'wrappers'), but it wasn't until the 1920s and beyond that they became popular with both publishers and book enthusiasts. There is a certain irony in that the dust jacket has only limited ability to protect a book from dust. The way books are normally stored, standing vertically on a horizontal shelf, tends to make only the top edge susceptible to dust: A part of the book which the jacket offers no protection to. The practical things the dust jacket will do include:

  • protect the book cover (usually cloth) from sunning and toning
  • protect the cover from dirty marks
  • and, to a limited extent, protect the corners and edges of a book from impactful shelf wear

However, there are other important benefits to having a dust jacket:

  • to make a book more pleasing on the eye - they are often works of art in their own right
  • to allow easy identification of a book's title, author and publisher, all three of which are usually included on the front and the spine
  • to allow the publisher to include a synopsis or blurb, normally on the front flap
  • to allow the publisher to include biographical notes of the author, frequently on the rear flap
  • to make a book more easily saleable because, cosmetically, most book covers are plain by nature and accordingly look better in an often colourful jacket
  • and to enhance the financial value of a book

It is this final element which has provided the motivation for a growing trend towards the use of facsimile dust jackets when the original has been lost or damaged beyond repair. It is a huge industry. In itself, the practise of publishing facsimile books or jackets is perfectly legal (subject to copyrights). The problem comes when criminal elements become involved: Driven by the huge values some books can achieve when enclosed in an original, first edition, first state, dust jacket.

Before we go on, let's understand the main types of facsimile jackets and the difference between these and reprint jackets:

  • There are many legitimate commercial publishers of facsimile books: Sometimes they are companies specialising in such books and sometimes those entering the market with just one or two select titles alongside a more extensive catalogue of original books. Such companies tend to use modern commercial printing processes
  • Since the 1970s, this commercial publication of facsimile books has been a growing marketplace. These are an exact copy of the original, frequently including impressions of any damage sustained by the original copied book. If the original had a dust jacket, so too will the facsimile
  • There are also publishers who specialise in producing just the facsimile jacket. These are usually produced using inkjet or digital technologies
  • San Francisco based website make no secret of the fact they produce facsimile jackets. Established in 2002, this is a popular site. All their jackets clearly indicate they are facsimiles
  • Reprints and new editions are different in that they are produced to fulfil the high demand of an original book. If a different publisher is engaged, such as a book club, the artwork of the jacket will likely be different and the publisher's name will usually appear on the jacket spine. It starts to get complicated when the reprint jacket is identical to the original

A responsible publisher of facsimile books will usually publish a notice near the front of the book, stating it is a facsimile. However, where the facsimile is published with a dust jacket, this notice might not be included on the jacket. This gives the unscrupulous opportunist the chance to remove the facsimile jacket and use it to cover and enhance the value of an original book.

It should be noted that reprints and special editions, such as those published by book clubs or companies like the Folio Society, are not facsimiles. They usually differ substancially in design from the original.

Specialist facsimile jacket publishers such as certainly have a role to play for collectors who want to protect their original books, or add a bit of style with the artwork the jacket has. However, not all jacket publishers include a "facsimile" note on their jackets, which makes it easier for cheats to claim the jackets are originals. Even jackets published with the notice have been known to be deliberately damaged and then repaired to remove the notice.

An original dust jacket can greatly enhance the value of a book, particularly when the subject matter is twentieth century fiction. In some cases the jacket will be worth more than the book. In contrast, a facsimile jacket is financially worthless. It may make a book easier to sell because it looks pretty, but it will have no impact on the value of the said book. Many dealers and experienced collectors have been duped by the fraudsters. Others have joined the cheats' ranks, actively selling books with facsimile or reprint jackets - passing them off as originals at inflated prices. After such a book has entered the marketplace it can be resold many times by innocent reputable dealers, auction houses and collectors.

If you are offered a book with a clearly stated facsimile or reprint jacket, that's fine: There's nothing wrong with that so long as the price hasn't been inflated. However, if you are sold a book (innocently or not) which purports to have an original jacket but does not, you will likely lose a lot of money. Nothing is foolproof but there are some things you can do, and some you can look out for, to protect yourself from fraudsters:

  • As stated earlier, most publishers of facsimile jackets use modern digital or inkjet printing processes. An essential tool for dealers and collectors is a strong magnifying glass (x32): The modern facsimiles tend to have a solid block of colour whereas original jackets are usually printed using the offset lithographic method, which has more defined borders and edges
  • When magnified most printed surfaces appear as a series of dots. Digital and inkjet dot arrangements tend to be random and smaller than offset printed dots, which also appear in more geometric arrangements
  • When printed by offset these dots will appear as true colours: Blue ink produces blue dots, green ink green dots etc. Most inkjet printers are limited from four to eight colours from which all other colours are created, but the dots will appear different under an eyeglass
  • Many original jackets will have edge wear and creases at the folds (spine and flaps). A facsimile might not and, furthermore, the damage to the original may be reproduced on the facsimile in the form of random printed lines which might look like printing flaws
  • To overcome the appearance of these 'flaws', some facsimile jackets may have had their edges trimmed (particularly the flaps), and will therefore be slightly smaller than the original
  • If you buy a book which was published a hundred years or so ago, there will likely be some shelf wear and there may be some toning or sunning (particularly to the spine). A facsimile which hasn't been distressed will look like it was printed yesterday and the paper used might appear whiter, brighter and crisper: If it's perfect, it is probably a facsimile
  • If a facsimile is produced from a price clipped original, this will likely show as a faint line on the facsimile
  • Some facsimile jackets are deliberately 'distressed' to make them look older. This may include any reference to the jacket being a facsimile, which is often cut out. A distressed facsimile is not always easy to spot, but the experience of handling old books and their jackets will help you identify the types of paper favoured when your original was printed - as previously noted modern papers are naturally whiter, brighter and crisper
  • 'Rosettes' are an arrangement of small circular patterns which can often be seen with an eyeglass at a colour change border of a jacket printed by offset. Inkjet and digital processes used for facsimiles cannot replicate the rosette effect
  • Commercially printed facsimile jackets are harder to spot as the facsimile book they are associated with usually has a facsimile notice. Once the jacket and book have been separated, the notice is lost
  • These books are likely to have been printed using offset or letterpress processes, so the dot arrangements and rosettes may be very similar to the original
  • If a jacket is from a commercially printed facsimile book, it may well look like an original, particularly if it has been distressed. Pay particular attention to the paper. The paper used for modern commercially produced facsimile jackets is usually thinner, lighter, stronger and smoother than the older papers of the originals
  • Images on a commercially printed facsimile jacket may be slightly blurred to disguise any flaws from the original. Blurred rosettes are a clear sign that a jacket has been more recently produced
  • Reprints are different to facsimiles and were often printed within a short time of the original. Where reprint jackets are 'married' to original books, a little bit of research may reveal if the dust jacket design is different from the original. However, it becomes far more difficult if the reprint jacket is the same as the original, particularly if the same printing plates were used. On a positive note, a reprint jacket may well have an intrinsic value of its own - unlike its facsimile counterpart
  • It is always worth researching original dust jackets when trying to establish if you're holding a reprint. There may sometimes be a flaw or error on an original which is absent from the reprint, or there might be a slight variation in the inks used

The main defence of those who seek to deceive by marrying facsimile dust jackets with original books is ignorance. Things are likely to get worse in the future as ink jet and digital printing processes evolve, so it is prudent to keep learning about the subject. If all else fails and you have any doubts about the originality of a dust jacket, either pass the book by or ask the seller for a written guarantee and money-back promise.