Leather Bindings, Decorative Dust Jackets and Beyond

While the old adage tells us that we certainly shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, it’s hard to ignore the artistry that goes into binding books and creating dust jacket images that catch the eye and tell a story all their own. Here’s a tour through various types of book covers featured in our upcoming auction of Art, Press & Illustrated Books.   

Intricately Crafted Leather Bindings

George Barbier’s own copy of Vies Imaginaires by Marcel Schwob, with illustrations by Barbier and F.L. Schmied, Paris, 1929. Estimate $20,000 to $30,000. 

George Barbier’s livre d’artiste was bound by Georges Cretté, successor to the great Marius Michel. The binding features an Art Deco design of intertwining gold and silver fillet diamonds, white morocco inlaid centers and dotted shadows which are repeated on the spine. All edges are trimmed and gilt, with white morocco doublures with silver, gold, and bronze zig-zag diamond design and rose silk moiré endleaves.

François-Louis Schmied’s illustrated version of René de Chateaubriand’s Les Adventures du Dernier Abencérage, with 37 color wood engravings by Schmied, Paris, 1930. Estimate $5,000 to $7,500. 

This contemporary brown morocco Art Deco binding by Jean Lambert was created after a design by François-Louis Schmied. The covers are decorated with horizontal gilt fillets and dots, central rectangular panels in coral, green and brown morocco inlaid geometric designs, with a gilt-lettered spine, silk moiré endleaves and calf doublures.

Custom-bound in green morocco leather with gold and silver Art Deco decorations and watered silk endpapers, by Lagrand. 

The Era of the Dust Jacket

Beginning in the 1900s, art migrated from the book binding to the dust jacket, primarily since dust jackets were cheaper to produce than intricate bindings. Today, dust jacket art has become incredibly recognizable, and important and collectable texts are often valued much higher if their dust jackets remain intact. 

Collection of 84 Weimar era Book Jackets from 1926-32. Estimate $1,500 to $2,500.

This collection of Weimar-era book jackets demonstrates a range of techniques showcasing the height of German avant-garde graphic design including photomontage, illustration, color printing, type design and layout. 

Rockwell Kent’s illustrated edition of Melville’s Moby Dick, from a group of 3 volumes. Estimate $600 to $900. 

At the time of publication of Rockwell Kent’s illustrated version, both Moby Dick and author Herman Melville had fallen into relative obscurity. Originally a commercial failure, Moby Dick is now often touted as the Great American Novel, a position of popularity that was certainly helped by the attention Kent’s illustrated edition garnered.

Non-traditional Book Covers and Bindings

Occasionally, bindings are a little more outside-the-box, blurring the line of how we traditionally view books. This Limited Editions Club version of Heinrich Harrer’s autobiographical travel book is bound in imported Indian white silk with a Tibetan good luck charm blind-stamped on the front cover, then further encased in a protective cloth wrap nestled between two carved magnolia panels with straps. 

LHeinrich Harrer, Seven Years in Tibet, number 43 of 300 copies signed by the author, Limited Editions Club, New York, 1993. Estimate $1,000 to $1,500. 
Enrico Baj, La Cravate ne vaut pas une médaille, color lithographs with silkscreen and collage, Geneva and Milan, 1972. Estimate $2,500 to $3,500.