Should I keep my dust jackets?
December 2, 2004 5:24 PM   Subscribe

Should I throw away the dust jackets from my hardcover books? [MI]

I have a couple hundred books, half of them in boxes, half of them stuffed on shelves. The hardcover books look much nicer without the dust jackets, but right now, they're all covered up by paperbacks and other stuff, so I'm not worried about how they look.

In the event that I got more shelving so that they were arranged in a decent manner, I'd like to take off the dust jackets. But, like my grandparents, I find it hard to convince myself to throw these away. What's the point of keeping them? Do they really serve any purpose? I've always kept them just because they come that way.
posted by BradNelson to Grab Bag (35 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have the same problem. Generally I fold up the dust jacket and put it inside the book, but I've been meaning to convince myself to just throw them away. There's rarely any useful information on them anyway.
posted by fvw at 5:33 PM on December 2, 2004

According to Back to the Future 2, dust jackets will become sought after antiquities, especially when attached to Sports Almanacs.

So you can look at it from the perspective that you may make some money on them someday, or realize that if the future has no need for them (and this is a future with hoverboards), then you can throw them away now.
posted by Stan Chin at 5:50 PM on December 2, 2004 [1 favorite]

I throw them away too because I like the look of the book's spine rather than glossy graphics. But I'm not sure that's wise, at least for books you may want to one day sell. I've noticed that when you buy an old book, it costs significantly more if it comes with the dust jacket.
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:53 PM on December 2, 2004

If any of your books might be collectible or valuable, you might want to save the jackets.
posted by gnat at 5:55 PM on December 2, 2004

My university library uses dust jackets to line the wastepaper baskets around the library. Given their position as book lovers, I can't see librarians doing that if there was any purpose to keeping them (aside from the look for those who prefer their books dressed).

However, my father collects and sells books, and if any of the books are worth anything or are likely to become worth something (already rare, first editions of quality bestsellers/important authors/important subject matter), they will be worth more with a dust jacket. My father will sometimes buy a book which isn't in good condition itself, just to get the dust jacket for one he has that is good but is without a jacket. I can't find a clear example of the price difference right now, but if you read descriptions of books on Abebooks (site that searches stacks of different secondhand/rare booksellers), most make mention of whether the dust jacket is there and its condition.
posted by AnnaRat at 5:55 PM on December 2, 2004

If you ever want to sell the book, the dust jacket would make it worth more.

Libraries don't keep the djs because they've already "ruined" the book by putting "Property of" stamps, bar codes, etc. in and on the book, so the book is never going to be "mint" anyway.

The reason they're called "dust jackets" is because they are meant to protect the binding from dust. They do actually do that.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:57 PM on December 2, 2004

As a book collector, my dust jackets are protected by mylar dust jacket protectors. Graphic artists are paid quite a bit for jacket art / design, they are art.

Would you throw away the covers of comic books that you save (if you did save comic books?)
posted by page404 at 6:04 PM on December 2, 2004

I remove dust jackets because it makes the books more difficult to read (since I use other things for bookmarks) and I like the look of the spine (normally). I used to keep them all in a large cardboard sleeve that I then left in storage, and have since begun throwing them away (except on Wolfram's A New Kind Of Science, which I will eventually sell). Personally, once the book is on my shelf I don't see the purpose in keeping the jacket (especially since most book jackets aren't really that cool). Of course, exceptions are made for awesome djs.
posted by j.edwards at 6:37 PM on December 2, 2004

Unless they are cool, the jackets get tossed. Even if it's saved, the jacket might be carefully put aside lest it become rumpled and torn as the book endures a daily commute to work in my messenger bag.

Quite often, I find a nice little medallion or other icon has been embossed on the actual hard cover and/or spine. Sometimes it's cheesy, but I've been pleasantly surprised by the understated beauty of a lot of un-jacketed volumes. Someone designed that little bit of art as well.
posted by Sangre Azul at 6:53 PM on December 2, 2004

Don't just throw them out... you can do untold cool things with a rainy afternoon and some decoupage
posted by nathan_teske at 6:58 PM on December 2, 2004

I have to admit that I keep them. I remove them temporarily when I read them but then put them back on.

For one it makes it much easier to find a book on my shelf. One exception where I will always toss the jacket is if the cover of the book itself has the same picture on it. This is more common than you might think for some kinds of books, like cookbooks, woodworking books, etc.

The other reason I keep them is that I have a very large library of books, since I buy often and sell never. I like to let people borrow or take books and I especially encourage young readers who visit to peruse the books and find something interesting. Never judge a book by it's cover? Whatever. The cover is often enough to make or break the interest of a casual observer who has never heard of the book or the author. Books look BORING and OLD without dust jackets and I'd hate for someone to miss out.

What does it cost you to keep them, you know, on the book?
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:35 PM on December 2, 2004


This is a form of book-mutilation, like writing a name in pen on the front paste-down, or cutting out pictures, or burning. Like someone said above, a hardcover without the dustjacket is worth substantially less. If you ever want to sell any of them, keep the jackets.

Also, the idea of you throwing away book parts practically makes me want to cry. Cover them in mylar or stack them flat in a box in a closet. They can't possibly take up all that much space.

Or, mail them to me. I'll gladly take them off your hands. Email in profile, and I'll give them back if you want them *and* I'll gladly reimburse you the postage. Just don't throw them away.
posted by interrobang at 8:05 PM on December 2, 2004

This is a form of book-mutilation, like writing a name in pen on the front paste-down, or cutting out pictures, or burning.

No it's not. Some of the dust jackets are godawful, some are good. If throwing away dust jackets is book-mutilation, so is removing the subscription card in a magazine (now, this also has a caveat -- for example, throwing away a Might subscription card would be mutilation). Most book covers aren't actually a component of the book, they're a place for the publisher to make a more colorful, and in my opinion often gaudier display.

I do keep some (for example, the nice jacket with the map from my first* edition of Dune), but not all. If you really want my dust jackets for The Rule of Four and Climing Mount Improbable (two that I can see from my chair), you can have them.

*It's actually the book club pressing, which has a brown cloth body instead of a blue one.
posted by j.edwards at 8:30 PM on December 2, 2004

I'm honestly surprised/confused by your statement that the books look nicer without the dust jackets. My problem with dust jackets is primarily practical - when you carry a book around a lot, the dust jacket gets torn and scuffed, which is really annoying... but if you can put it aside while you actually read, and then put it back on once it returns to the shelf, then it's alright.

Of course, this is a part of what is a perennial problem for me - the reader vs. the collector in me, when it comes to books. I want to snuggle up with a book, I want to carry it everywhere, scribble notes in its margins, treat it as a part of my life, let it become lived in - and at the same time I want it to remain pristine and unbroken, like new. Of course you can't have both. I usually end up giving in and "living in" my books, but a new book, especially a nice edition of something, will be treated delicately and sacredly for a little while. But I think in the end, even though it's an object, a book is more about the experience than the object, so the shape of the particular book is not so much the issue, as what its shape means to you... ie, if treating books with utmost care symbolizes the respect you have for the experience of reading, then you will want to keep them in mint condition, and if underlining and scribbling endless notes throughout a book reveals to you your enthusiasm for reading, then the dog-eared book will look beautiful, and ultimately you know which kind of library makes you feel happier.

re: libraries, not only do they not keep dustjackets, but they usually bind or re-bind books as soon as they get them - that has a lot to do with how much use their books get, compared with some people's books.
posted by mdn at 8:34 PM on December 2, 2004

No it's not. Some of the dust jackets are godawful, some are good. If throwing away dust jackets is book-mutilation, so is removing the subscription card in a magazine

This is true if you care about magazines.

I care about books, and this discussion is about MrAnonymous wanting to throw away parts of his books.
posted by interrobang at 8:45 PM on December 2, 2004

j.edwards, why, is _A new kind of science_ especially valuable?
posted by jmgorman at 8:45 PM on December 2, 2004

Wow, my feelings on the dj question are the same as interrobang's in that I actually experienced a certain amount of psychic pain just reading it, but I do treasure some of the strange additions people make to used books. My favorite: I have an old Penguin UK edition of Kornbluth and Pohl's Wolfbane from the late 60s/early 70s. On the inside back cover, someone had planted a big lipstick kiss.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:46 PM on December 2, 2004

On the other hand, I almost immediately throw away the box when I get a new computer game. I'm sure there's someone who read that who just experienced the same kind of pain I felt upon reading BradNelson's question.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:48 PM on December 2, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks for all the feedback. I doubt I'll ever be selling these (I'm not a collector by any means), but I'll probably just stuff all the DJ's in a box somewhere and store it. I struggle to accept the fact that these are "art" or a significant part of the book, but I might regret tossing them, so I won't.

As far as the books looking nicer without the DJs: most of my books are novels or history/political science non-fiction. I like the look of big bookshelves piled with nice looking, subtle books. I hate these glaring, multi-colored DJs. Tacky. I actually when through a bunch of my books (of which I've barely touched, much less removed the DJs) and was pleased to find a vast array of binding colors. They look great.

I almost immediately throw away the box when I get a new computer game

Same here. I was shocked to find out that people actual kept them. Seriously. This was like 6 months ago, I saw that my roommate had a bunch of them. I was blown away.
posted by BradNelson at 9:00 PM on December 2, 2004

sorry to break up the topic but - what does [MI] mean? I think I missed the meeting on new lingo.
posted by Kilovolt at 9:12 PM on December 2, 2004

j.edwards, why, is _A new kind of science_ especially valuable?

Heh, it's not, I just don't want it all that much.

This is true if you care about magazines.
I care about books...

Okay, that makes sense. I don't view the dust jackets (particularly, as I mentioned, extra-colourful jackets on last-20-or-so-years books that are designed more to catch the attention of a buyer than to enhance the book itself with art or information) as a part of the essence of a book in most cases. Where it adds an attribute, (again with the Dune example) like a map or actual artwork, I see value in retaining it. A dust jacket that is all promo quotes and gold letters isn't (to me) shelf-worthy.

sorry to break up the topic but - what does [MI] mean?

"More inside," so that the bulk of a long question or clarifications can be kept off the ask.mefi frontpage.
posted by j.edwards at 9:16 PM on December 2, 2004

If you prefer the look of the books minus their jackets, then the only good reason for you to keep them is, as others have said, if you want to consider your books as a collection with a potential resale value rather than as a library solely for reading.

I usually only throw jackets away if they are unusually ugly (even then, I might desist if the book is relatively rare or expensive), or if I've damaged them.
posted by misteraitch at 1:26 AM on December 3, 2004

I'm one of those librarians that chuck book covers. We keep the covers on our new books for about a month or so, then discard them as the books are rotated into the stacks.

For my own collection, I have no set guide for jackets. If the book is going to travel about with me, I usually remove it. The chances of the jacket and book reuniting, though, is slim. If it's a collector's item, replacement, or book of reference, the jacket stays.

As for how they look on the shelf, my personal library is so varied and disorganized that jacket or no jacket makes little difference.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:49 AM on December 3, 2004

Good to hear you're not throwing away the covers, B.N. I'm with interrobang and PinkStainlessTail on this one. In fact, my reaction upon seeing your question was almost identical to interrobang's: "Throw away his WHAT? Good God, NO!"

As the old saying goes, "You can't judge a book by its cover', but I'd say the way a cover looks can influence the way you read the book-- similar to how a set designer can influence how you watch a play. A book's cover design can set a tone for the entire book. A bad cover can detract from a good book and a good cover can enhance a bad book.

I own three different editions of Naked Lunch and even though the text is more or less the same, I find that reading each edition is a different experience, partly to do with the different history of each edition but also due to the different cover art.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 5:00 AM on December 3, 2004

If you think about books as a financial commodity, then I think you've missed the principal point of books. Throw the dust jackets out and don't look back. Let the money-grubbers have their fun. Maybe they can get together with the Beanie Baby collectors and talk about their mint items that have never been opened.
posted by Mo Nickels at 6:13 AM on December 3, 2004

God, I hate collectors. I have a gzillion books. Most of the hardcovers have their dustjackets because then they fit in nice with the majority of my collection, which as all paperback/trade paperback. But to me, a book in mint condition is really something to be ashamed of. It says "Look, I bought this book to look cool." A well-read book is something to be proud of. My favorite books have notes and highlighting and all that stuff. I also have a Wolverine action figure that I took out of the box and a number of comics, all of which have been dragged around, read, loaned out, etc. And I took the tag off of a beanie baby I got from a friend of mine when we were in high school.
posted by dagnyscott at 8:08 AM on December 3, 2004

There is a good reason for keeping dustwrappers, and then there is a vulgar reason.

The good reason is that they may contain useful material that is not present in the book itself. Inside the front flap of the dustwrapper you will often find a blurb, or brief description of the book; and this, though usually unsigned, is often written by the author and may give crucial information about how he/she wishes the book to be understood. Iris Murdoch wrote the blurbs for the first editions of her books, published by Chatto & Windus, and these often provide important clues to unravelling the philosophical meaning of the novels. If you pick up a volume of poetry published by Faber & Faber in the 1940s or 1950s, there is a good chance that the dustwrapper blurb may have been written by T.S. Eliot, who was a director of the firm and took a personal interest in the poetry list. The dustwrapper of my copy of Daniel Dennett's Consciousness Explained carries a diagram which is used to illustrate a point halfway through the book.

Dustwrappers may also be worth keeping for their artistic merit. The first editions of Evelyn Waugh's early novels, such as Decline and Fall and Scoop, have dustwrappers illustrated by the author himself, which have never appeared on any subsequent edition. The first editions of many of Virginia Woolf's novels have dustwrappers illustrated by Vanessa Bell; and her husband Leonard Woolf wrote a political tract called Quack! Quack! with a dustwrapper by the great designer E. McKnight Kauffer. Modern publishers regard the dustwrapper as a crucial selling-point of the book, and spend a great deal of money on the design; I was once told by a publisher's editor that, for most novels published today, the production cost of the dustwrapper is greater than the production cost of the book.

The vulgar reason for keeping dustwrappers is that they may enhance a book's financial value. But I am sure that no one on Metafilter would ever stoop to consider anything so sordid.
posted by verstegan at 8:34 AM on December 3, 2004

What page404 and interrobang said.
posted by rushmc at 8:45 AM on December 3, 2004

As a book jacket designer I'm going to have to weigh in on the "Throw away your dust jackets? Are you MAD?!?" side -- although I completely understand the desire to chuck 'em. Some jackets do reach the rarified level of "art," but the majority are bright ads designed only to catch your eye and, if you're sensitive to that kind of thing, are garbage-worthy. I take mine off while reading, and then restore it when shelved, regardless of the quality of the jacket.
posted by papercake at 9:36 AM on December 3, 2004

Huh. I would never have imagined so many people think books look better without their jackets; to me, they look naked and anonymous. But if you do think that, and you have no plans to sell the book, for heaven's sake chuck the jackets -- why burden yourself with unwanted paper product? And all you "don't do it!" folks -- why on earth do you give a shit about what BradNelson does with his book jackets? Here, let me give you more agita: I write in my books! And you can't stop me! Hahahaha....
posted by languagehat at 10:21 AM on December 3, 2004

languagehat - Fine with me. Just don't write on the dust jacket.
posted by papercake at 10:33 AM on December 3, 2004

re: libraries, not only do they not keep dustjackets, but they usually bind or re-bind books as soon as they get them - that has a lot to do with how much use their books get, compared with some people's books.

I've worked in a large library for years and they would never re-bind a book with a perfectly good binding.
posted by agregoli at 11:02 AM on December 3, 2004

Quite often, I find a nice little medallion or other icon has been embossed on the actual hard cover and/or spine. Sometimes it's cheesy, but I've been pleasantly surprised by the understated beauty of a lot of un-jacketed volumes. Someone designed that little bit of art as well.

Sangre: On the spine, that's called a colophon (originally colophon referred to something else, but now that). Sometimes it's the same for each imprint, but some publishers, notably Knopf (if I recall), change them slightly to match the design. They're on the dust jacket too usually, but look prettier when foil-stamped on cloth.

Also, the discussion of what is abusing a book reminds me of "Never Do That to a Book," an essay by Anne Fadiman. She posits two schools of book love, the carnal and the courtly, and does an entertaining job of relating the damage her carnal love has inflicted on books.
posted by dame at 11:30 AM on December 3, 2004

That Fadiman book sounds great -- thanks for the link, dame!
posted by languagehat at 2:43 PM on December 3, 2004

I discovered last spring that I was in possession of a very early edition of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath... possibly a first edition, in great condition but sans book jacket. When I contacted my friendly neighborhood antiquarian bookseller, he said that with early copies of The Grapes of Wrath the printing information was carried on the dustjacket, so without one there would be no way to definitively identify the edition.

That's obviously not a reason to keep the dustjacket from a contemporary novel, but it just goes to show you there's no telling what future generations will find valuable.
posted by the_bone at 11:28 PM on December 3, 2004

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