One of the aspects of book-collecting that has always fascinated me is the phenomenon for which, a few hours ago, I coined the term “cover-design decay.” This refers to the frequent — though probably not universal — practice of publishers in simplifying and stripping-down cover-designs in later editions (and perhaps re-using them for different titles for which the design was not intended). I’m limiting my observations to the period of, say, the 1860s through the 1920s — though the phenomenon may have existed before and after that, as well.
I’m not talking about the concept of low-priced later editions, where one might expect a certain amount of design simplification, of which many so-called “cheap editions” were a staple of the Victorian era.
I have occasionally wondered why this cover-design decay phenomenon exists. I suppose, but cannot prove, that it related to the fact that publishers were trying to cut costs after the impact of a big first-edition release. Maybe they figure, “Hey, everyone knows about the book now, so we don’t need to draw attention to it.” Or maybe the newer releases crowded the older releases off the shelves — and the old releases may have been available more by mail, where the buyer would not see the book in advance. If publisher’s are so willing to drop the quality of a book, one wonders why they did not offer, to start out with, a poorer edition than the original. (I do suspect that many of the “decayed” versions were offered at lower prices.)
Of course, this cheapening of later editions is not necessarily limited to the cover designs. Cheaper paper might be used, for example. Or later editions might eliminate gilt edges.
The printings of Robert-Houdin’s The Secrets of Conjuring and Magic (translated by Hoffmann) dated 1878 had a fancy binding, like that portrayed in this post. Later printings had completely plain, blank front covers, and a greatly simplified spine.
Similar comments (not as extreme) could be made about Modern Magic, More Magic, The Illustrated Book of Patience Games, and certain other Hoffmann books.
Sometimes (as with the case of Modern Magic) the drop-off is not immediate, but often it is, as in the case of More Magic.
Below are two images. They portray an excellent example of “cover-design decay.” The scans were made from books in my collection. The first image shows the front cover of Every Boy’s Annual for 1876.
The next image shows the front cover of The Boy’s Playtime Book, which was basically a version of Every Boy’s Annual for 1885 (which also appeared under the Every Boy’s Annual title).
Depending on how general or specific one wants to be, there are probably around six or eight more-or-less discrete differences between the two covers — each of them rendering the cover worse than in the first one shown. For fun, you may wish to look for the differences in the images yourself. I might discuss them in a future post.
And, as one might expect, Goodall’s card-game booklets were not exempt from this phenomenon. Nonetheless, it was actually a relatively insignificant phenomenon among Goodall’s publications, and in fact, some of the changes were almost invisible.
I suppose that some titles did not display the phenomenon at all, or did so in a difficult-to-define way.
But in time, as far as I know, the remaining Goodall booklets — the last ones to survive — all took on the well-known De La Rue design.
I hope to continue this discussion in the next post.
January 3, 2013