What current best-selling novel features the blurb: “It is a magical, living book, blended of irony, romance, and mysticism”?
No, it’s not for Dan Brown’s Inferno, it’s from the original dust jacket for F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, currently riding high in the sales charts on a wave of Jazz Age enthusiasm brought about by the new film starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby and Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan.
The first edition of The Great Gatsby was published in 1925 and is one of the first books to have an arty dust jacket rather than a more utilitiarian illustration. Dust jackets were originally intended to be disposed of and the hard cover of a book received more attention but Fitzgerald asked his publisher for an artistic wrapper.
The design of the jacket played a part in influencing the writing of the book as when he received the artwork by Francis Cugat, Fitzgerald was only midway through writing Gatsby and he wrote back to his publisher saying: “For Christ’s sake don’t give anyone that jacket you’re saving for me. I’ve written it into the book.”
Adam Douglas, Senior Specialist in Literature at rare bookseller Peter Harrington in London, says the wrapper has been called one of the most iconic book jacket designs in 20th century American literature.
He says it is a symbolic evocation of the events in the novel, with the two eyes of a woman staring over a Coney Island scene. The two eyes of the cover are echoed in the book by the two eyes of the oculist watching down from a billboard and is also reminiscent of Daisy’s face that haunts Gatsby.
Douglas adds that it is not a particularly rare book as there were over 18,000 copies printed of the first edition but a surviving dust jacket is very rare. The jacket is printed slightly too tall for the book, so has a tendency to chip at the edges and the paper gets brittle.
There is also a notable typo on the back of the jacket, with Jay Gatsby printed with a lower case “j”, so every copy of the first issue jacket was corrected by hand into the capital letter “J”. This is what book collectors call a “point” and shows it is a first issue jacket.
To make it even rarer, it is the only book jacket produced by artist Francis Cugat who died in relative obscurity in the early 1980s. To illustrate just how rare this jacket is, Peter Harrington has the first edition complete with dust jacket priced at a remarkable £120,000 ($180,000) while without its jacket you could expect to pick it up for a mere £5,000 ($7,500).
Mr Douglas points out The Great Gatsby dust jacket is reckoned to be the most expensive single piece of paper in 20th century book collecting.
You can see a video featuring Adam Douglas explaining the creation of this iconic dust jacket at www.peterharrington.co.uk.