Anatomy of the book: accessories

They don’t quite run to handbags and bangles but books do nevertheless have some cool accessories.

The dust jacket is the first. Though it can be traced back to the sixteenth century in some form or another, it really rose to prominence in the twentieth.Originally it was just meant to protect the covers from grubby fingerprints and other damage but is now used for promotional purposes, to make the book more eye-catching. Illustrations of heaving bosoms, manly chests, the author’s name in giant gold letters, you name it! Underneath, the covers can be quite plain. (NB There are a zillion different terms for the dust jacket, well maybe not quite a zillion but certainly a lot: book jacket, book wrapper, dust wrapper, wrapper, jacket—look, any combination of “dust”, “wrapper”, “book” and “jacket” will do, really).

The slipcase is another. Not all books come with slipcases; these days you might only find them on boxed sets or special editions. It’s just a box (often printed, decorated etc) into which the book slips, snugly, with its spine exposed. A slip case should be neither too loose or too tight, otherwise there’s no point, really, is there? The simplest are made from card and covered in paper, but you can find them made from board or even wood, bound in leather and tooled in gold.

Larger books may also have a ribbon, or even two or three, stitched or adhered onto the spine with which to mark your place.

And let’s not forget the humble bookmark. My aunt recently found a bookmark that my best friend gave to me when I was six in a book of hers, so she posted it back. It has a picture of a squirrel on the front and a lovely message in a careful hand on the back. I love finding old bookmarks in books—even if they’re just an old receipt or half a shopping list on the back of an old envelope.

No heaving bosoms in Georgette Heyer, thank you very much! You can see the damage a poor dust jacket suffers, with the plain covers peeping through at the corners.

Some simple but lovely slipcases on my copies of Watership Down and the Narnia series.


A selection of bookmarks—handmade, promotional, printed, stitched, tooled.