Jackets Required: An Illustrated History of American Book Jacket Design, 1920-1950

Reviewed by Ryan Martell

Jackets Required was an interesting look at the style and art of book jacket design from 1920–1950. While the jackets only offer clues to the actual content of the book, it does showcase fantastic illustrations and some of the earlier uses of commercial art in America.

The book is arranged not in chronological order, but more by style. So on the same you may have three different covers of James Joyce’s Ulysses. One from 1934, one from 1946, and 1947. I offers a bit of insight into the commercial art trends of their times. One may simply have plain type, while others may showcase full illustrations and fully highlight the style of the time.

The progression from illustration heavy and hand drawn covers slowly gives way over the course of the book as well, as commercial art and design became more of a structured discipline. Nearly all of the early jacket covers from the 20’s have colored illustrations that are probably attempting to capture or convey the content within. In stark contrast to some of the jackets by Paul Rand from the late 40’s which features design centric covers with typogried in with photography, and photograms. It gives his covers a contemporary feel even today. Even without an illustrated scene the content of the book was implied.

The most interesting part of looking through this book was recognizable themes and styles. Even though some of these jackets were printed almost one hundred years ago, I’ve seen books today that are almost one for one copies, or at the very least draw heavy inspiration from these classic book jackets.