In their modest beginnings, dust jackets were purely functional. Originally created simply to protect the cloth binding of a book as it made its way through various hands from the publisher to the ultimate recipient, the reader, the jacket came to have a much more important role.
While the earliest known jacket dates back to 1832, by the time that Montgomery's books were offered for sale toward the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, publishers realized that the paper dust-wrapper could be used to furnish the literary shopper with important information.
The paper jacket could, among other things, provide details about the book in the form of a blurb and a price but it could also serve as a vehicle to advertise other works by the same publisher and, where possible, by the same author.
It could also be used to entice potential readers to the book itself by its appearance. In fact, the choice of artwork and colour can sometimes tell us today what the publisher thought of its potential market for the book at the time of publication. The study of the different approaches by different publishers in a single country, not to mention the study of that diversity across borders, to the marketing of Montgomery's works will be a fascinating one when undertaken.
In any event, the ephemeral function of the dust jacket rendered the wrapper particularly expendable once it had fulfilled its raison d'être by the arrival of its protectee to the final purchaser. Even as recently as the 1950s, I remember my avid reader parents regularly stripping their volumes of the "nuisance" dust jackets before sitting down to enjoy their literary purchases. This was also the case with libraries; it was not until 1988, for example, that the National Library of Canada began to retain jackets on its acquisitions. Some libraries do not do so yet.
Early dust jackets (before 1935, if not 1945) are, not surprisingly, exceedingly difficult to find. They survived almost by happenstance rather than design. And it takes little imagination to appreciate that, on children's books, their survivability in eager and careless hands was even less likely.
It follows that many of the jackets, which are a part of the Ronald I. Cohen Lucy Maud Montgomery Collection, are great rarities, some of which are possibly unique. I hope you enjoy looking at some of my favourites as much as I enjoyed finding them and giving them to the National Library of Canada.
In some ways, the dust jacket story begins here. In their design of the
book cover, L.C. Page & Co. set the tone for Montgomery's early works.
The tipped on label depicting their view of Anne is echoed on the jacket.
The style continued through the last of the Page publications of Montgomery's
works and was picked up by Grosset and Dunlap in the USA and Harrap in
the UK. This jacket is a prize that I happened to find when, tired after
a full day in Winnipeg, my last stop on a Western trip before heading
back to Ottawa, I called one of my favourite dealers after hours, only
to find him still in the shop, doing inventory. He said he had a treat
for me, a very nice surprise. It was. This jacket, on the 11th printing
of Anne of Green Gables, only 14 months after
the first edition was published, is the earliest known jacket on any of
The relationship between Montgomery and her first publisher ended acrimoniously
in the nineteen-teens and Maud's novels began to appear under the Stokes
imprint in the USA and, at last in Canada, under that of McClelland, Goodchild
& Stewart. Page, of course, retained the publishing rights for the novels
before Anne's House of Dreams and, when the silver (twenty-fifth)
anniversary of Anne's first publication came around, in 1933, Page
released Anne in magnificent new "clothes" for the event (actually
the 68th printing of that immensely successful work). Printed on larger
and thicker paper stock, bound in silver-coloured cloth, the dust jacket
was also totally redesigned to commemorate the event.
When Harrap took over the publication of the Montgomery novels in Great
Britain from Pitman, in some cases, and Constable or Hodder and Stoughton,
in others, it produced dust jackets in the style of the Page jackets (although
the cloth bindings are uniform with the Harrap style and very different
from the Page cover design) but often with totally original artwork. This
is the case with the Rilla, which Harrap first published in 1928.
This copy was owned by a young girl (one assumes, on the basis of her
handwriting on the front free endpaper) from Dublin named Shelagh Murphy
who collected Montgomery's works and treated them very carefully. I purchased
a number of her volumes from a knowledgeable and industrious Scottish
bookseller, who constantly surprises me with what she turns up and is
a great favourite of mine. I have not otherwise seen the image of Rilla
on this jacket.
In this case, Harrap was not the publisher of the first British edition
of Rilla. That honour belonged to Hodder & Stoughton, which first
published a Montgomery work in 1921. Rilla was their first. Their
"Yellow Jackets" were famous and their design tended to be considerably
more dramatic than the portrait-like images created by Harrap. This jacket
is also very rare.
The design used on the first Canadian (and American) editions of Rilla
tends to be much better known to collectors because full labels of the
same design used on the front of the dust jacket are tipped onto the upper
covers of the volumes themselves and appear as the frontispiece in the
volumes as well. The McClelland & Stewart dust jackets, while scarce,
seem to be more readily found than those on the British editions.
Shelagh Murphy saved this dust jacket as well and it drew oohs and ahs
when shown to the Montgomery experts gathered for "L.M. Montgomery and
Popular Culture," the Fourth Biennial Conference hosted by the L.M. Montgomery
Institute in July 2000. It, too, was entirely original artwork commissioned
by Harrap for its 1928 second British edition of the book and was utterly
unknown even to Montgomery scholars.
No British dust jacket, though, was more breathtaking to me when I opened
the parcel of books from Scotland than that on Shelagh Murphy's Harrap
second British edition of Emily Climbs. Participants in the July
2000 Conference reacted that way as well.
The rarest individual title in the L.M. Montgomery canon is her 1916
book of poetry, The Watchman. It appears to have gone through a
single printing, the sheets of which were used for the Canadian, American
and British issues of the work (McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, Toronto,
1916; Stokes, New York, 1917; and Constable, London, 1920, respectively).
Since the Canadian issue of the work is known in two different binding
cloths, green and blue, it appears that the publisher's sheets awaited
orders rather than risking the expense of binding them all at a single
go. In addition to the binding cloths, the book is known in two different
and very scarce dust jackets, one blue and one yellow. I was very
fortunate to find copies of each and to be able to add them to the Ronald
I. Cohen Lucy Maud Montgomery Collection at the National Library of Canada.
It is conjectural but, based on helpful contemporary ownership signatures
in each of the volumes, the yellow dust jacket (from 1916) appears
to be the first and the blue jacket (from 1919) a later issue.