Why Macmillan Clipped Their Dust Jackets: Mystery Solved

By Tom Klein - March 31, 2010

Collectors have been long perplexed by the existence of clipped, yet priced dust jackets published by Macmillan during the 1940's, 1950's, and early 1960's. These jackets typically have the corners of the front flap clipped, but with the price still remaining, and have been found on highly collectible books such as Ian Fleming's Casino Royale, and James A. Michener's Tales of the South Pacific. First editions of these books are often listed with one of two dust jacket varieties - one with clips and a vertical price, and the other without any clips and a horizontal price. There has been debate about which is the first issue. So we set out to answer this question.

Tales South Pacific These are two first edition dust jacket varieties for Tales of the South Pacific. The one on the left is the first issue with three preliminary prices clipped away, and the final price displayed vertically. The flap on the right is the second issue which was produced after the final price was firmly established.

A broader analysis of most books published by Macmillan during the time period in question shows listings of clipped dust jackets with the price still present. This suggested to us that there was something systemic at play and that perhaps these clipped jackets were part of an early Macmillan production practice. We began to speculate that the clips were the result of a some sort of effort to save time by printing the dust jackets before the final price was established. We thought that perhaps the jackets were printed with multiple variation prices. Then when the price was set, all but that final price was clipped off.

But we needed proof, and so we began to search for a "smoking gun" - a Macmillan dust jacket that remained unclipped with multiple prices still present. At last we found one on a 1948 proof copy of The Hunters and the Hunted (U.S.) by Sacheverell Sitwell. The front flap confirmed our line of thinking. It shows four different prices that vary by increments of 25 cents. On the very top is a horizontal price of $3.75, and below that a vertical price of $4.00. On the bottom is a mirror placement with $4.25 as the vertical price, and $4.50 as the horizontal price on the very bottom. The photo on the bottom shows the proof flap along side the final issue (clipped) jacket. We added red lines on the proof to illustrate how the jacket could have been clipped to eliminate any three prices. The final issue jacket on the right shows that all but the $4.00 price was ultimately clipped when the book was published.

We now have good reason to conclude that clipped (but priced) Macmillan dust jackets are indeed first issue jackets. Our findings also explain why well established first issue jackets such as the U.S. edition of A Separate Peace are always found with clipped corners on the front flap. We certainly welcome any comments or corrections you might have to strengthen or to counter our conclusions.

Comment on dust jacket clips:

The Hunters And The Hunted The "Smoking Gun" - The dust jacket flap on the right is from the first American edition of The Hunters and the Hunted published by Macmillan. It is a first issue with three clips and a horizontal price on the top. The flap on the left comes from a dust jacket proof. It shows four different preliminary prices that were placed in areas that could be clipped away according to the red lines added to the photo. After the jackets were produced, one of the prices was established as the final price, and the other three were clipped away so that the flap resembled the one on the right.