Cover Identity

I have a copy of the late Nora Ephron’s very first book. And nobody cares.

Nora Ephron, who rose through the ranks of magazine writers until snagged by someone who thought she’d make a decent screenwriter (turned out pretty well), put together a biography of the New Host of the Tonight Show, a little thing called And Now…Here’s Johnny! This was published in 1968, six years before the current New Host of the Tonight Show was even born, if you haven’t had your Aging Pills yet today.

First, the collector’s market not especially interested in books about former hosts of the Tonight Show (books written and/or signed by them is another matter). Second, the previous owner has encased this little paperback in what he no doubt considered a protective cover, a plastic wrapper (he put them on all his paperbacks) which is now completely a part of the book and tacky to the touch. It doesn’t stick to other books, but it is unpleasant to touch, and I MAY get a dollar for Nora’s first book.

People have put all kinds of covers on their books through the years. I love to look at the college and high school paper covers, even though they usually indicate the presence of a geometry textbook underneath. The badger or hawk or panther or whathaveyou on the cover always looks so cheery and optimistic, even when the prior owner has scratched on spectacles and a long black wig during dull bits in the lecture.

Some school bookstores sold plain paper covers which may included gummed edges or even string ties. We had some unused ones come in once that none of us could figure out how they were supposed to be attached to the book. We tried to convince the Newberry to keep one for the collection, and I don’t recall whether we won that one.

Other students prepared their own brown paper jackets out of brown paper bags from home. Last year we had one which had been ornamented with an ink sketch in a rather art nouveau style. I tried to convince not only the Newberry but customers on eBay that this was worthy of collecting, and came out pretty much where I went in.

At the higher end, a number of outfits have sold book covers, or book purses (these have handles), which can be slipped over the cover of a paperback or hardcover. Some of these become quite ornate, and are worth more than the book, if the owner took care of them. In fact, the books inside are often so dull that it’s no mystery why the owners didn’t want people to see what they were reading.

I have mentioned before these plastic covers with a sleeve at one end and a band at the other. These are among the book adornments I like least, but at least they do protect the book beneath them. Whatever the collector who sent me Nora Ephron used has actually merged with the cover, so…no, I can’t say any more.

Publishers sometimes will add to the jackets of their books. Often it’s a sticker, attached to books which win a major prize after the jackets are printed. Once in a while, it’s what is known in the trade as a wraparound band: a ribbon of paper that does the same job as the sticker but looks a little more expensive. I find that when this ribbon of paper is added to a Japanese LP, it is known as an “obi band”, after the kimono sash.

In either case, the book has a little more value if it is still there. The best people for this, I find, are the sensible ones who took the ribbon off and used it for a bookmark in the book, guaranteeing its survival. Paper ribbons on the outside of a book are not long for this world, unless, of course, you buy one of those protective covers for it right away.

Please try not to buy the ones that go tacky. When I open your box of books, you want me to say “ooh” for GOOD reasons.

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