Do you judge a book by its cover? Does a book’s cover help you decide whether you might like to read it or not? If you answered “no,” then the cover isn’t doing its job. Book covers and dust jackets evolved to advertise books, to offer insight into their contents, and to lure consumers to buy them. 

Before the early nineteenth century, however, book covers had a far more basic role. While they were often made of luxurious materials such as leather, gold and silver, their main function was to protect the hand-bound pages inside. 

The industrial revolution changed this. Steam-powered presses manufactured books out of mechanically-produced paper and with cloth or paper covers. Because these covers soiled easily, publishers began to wrap books in dust jackets to protect them. Both book covers and dust jackets had the added benefit of being printable using multi-coloured lithography and other illustration processes. Artists and graphic designers soon got to work in what became a whole new industry.

In this exhibition, you will see cover art and dust jackets from books held in Museum London’s extensive material culture collection. Featuring children’s storybooks and cook books, school textbooks and religious works, this exhibition will give you an opportunity to look at a wide range of book covers from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries.