When I was a kid, we always covered our school books with paper covers to help keep them clean. I remember going to the Campus Shop, (so called because it was adjacent to the campus of a local college) and buying covers with our school’s colors and name, mascot, etc. I wasn’t very good at getting them folded properly to fit my books, but managed to do an adequate job.
In the 19th century, schoolbooks were a scarcer and more treasured commodity, and so it was expected that they would be well cared for. Back then your sister or your Mom would actually sew a custom fabric cover onto the book. Shown below are two second readers and two fourth readers dating from 1871 to 1890. The oldest is at right, the newest at left.
As fabric junkies, we’re liable to accumulate anything and everything having to do with cloth, especially antique or vintage cloth. So at local auctions, yard sales, etc., we always have our eyes open for these, and have managed to accumulate a small assortment. However, like anything antique or vintage, as time passes they become increasingly difficult to find.
Now you can find dealers in primitive and grungy decor who cover old books themselves, even using antique fabric, but it’s hard to duplicate the original. For one thing, the style of attaching the cover was different, and left its own mark.
You can see that the thread used to fasten the cover to this early 2nd reader has oxidized the paper facing it over time, leaving no doubt that the cover has accompanied the book for 100 years or more.
You have to wonder if school kids compared covers on their books, whose was prettiest or most colorful. Or if anyone actually carried a book that matched her dress.