Book Jacket Designers Guild





In 1947 a group of cover designer, recognizing the sexual morass into which their field threatened to sink, established the Book Jacket Designers Guild.

The Guild began holding annual exhibitions of the best paperback and hardbound book covers in 1948; they advocated the production of covers with Quality.

What the word Quality meant can perhaps best be explained by quoting what the Guild was against:..."the stunt jacket that screams for your attention, and then dares you to guess what the book is about...the burlap backgrounds, the airbrush dollies and similar cliches as well as the all-too-many good illustrations that (are) stretched, squeezed, tortured and mutilated to fit a jacket with just enough room for an unralted title."

The Guild felt that covers should not be judged solely on their artistic or technical merit, but also by their relationship to the books they were designed for. Books werer to be considered as literature, the Guid said, and not simply as one more commercial product, to be sold by sensational covers alone.

As Leo Manso put it:"That's plain bad taste; you just can't put a sexy cover on Magic Mountain or The Brothers Karamazov, can you? But hell, some publishers actually tried. They'd find on e steamy passage halfway through the book and, sure enough, that's the scene that turned up on the cover. Not only does that give the wrong idea of what's the book about, it lowers the whole level you're dealing on."

The Book Jacket Designers Guild was also involved with promoting other artists' concerns. They tried to set up standards for the relationship between publisher and illustrator, for example, and to determine precisely the responsibilities of each. Their dominant concern, though, was the overuse of sex on book covers.

On May 12, 1952, the BJDG received unexpected assistance in its crusade with the publication of the report of the Gatherings Committee on Current Pornographic Materials in Pursuance of House Resolution 596, Eighty-Second Congress, Second Session.

The Committee's report included a list of works which they considered to be pornographic, although a minority of the members disagreed with the inclusion of such books as Erskine Caldwell's God's Little Acre on the forbidden list.

Much censorship occurred in the industry between 1952 and 1955. The amopunt of visible flesh decreased, and even the blurbs, those often-provocative advertising texts, became somewhat less stimulating. A Popular Library book, which had, in 1950, the line "Death Dope and Sex Betray a Harlem Youth" on it's cover was later toned down to read "Death, Dope and Passion Betray a Harlem Youth". The words "Violent Young Love", which appeared on a 1952 Popular Library cover, were changed to simply "Young Love" on a subsequent edition.

In the mid-1950s, after eight years of life, the Book Jacket designers Guild was disbanded. Perhaps the guild had somewhat improved the position of the cover artist, but in spite of its fulminations against "top-heavy ladies draped in undress" and a few brief years of industry self-discipline, the number of stimulating book covers being produced at the time the Guild passed out of existence had actually gone up rather than down.




(from The Book of Paperbacks by Piet Schreuders, Virgin Press, 1981)