A few weeks ago, Shannon from It Starts @ Midnight wrote Bookish Things That Confuse Me, one of which was Deckle Edges. Here’s what she had to say.
When I got a copy of The Winner’s Curse from BookOutlet, I figured “huh, these weird ass edges must be why it was only $3.99!” and moved on. Then, The Winner’s Crime came to my house. Two copies- one I’d ordered for a giveaway, and one I won from Macmillan… and they had these strange edges too. I could not even imagine what kind of sorcery this was. Clearly, they weren’t all mistakes, so off to the internet I went searching for “Strange Pages” and “The Winner’s Crime“. Seriously, this embarrassing story happened. Well, I came to learn the truth: it was the Deckle Edge. Yes, I had heard the term before, but it sounded fancy, so I was thinking like, gold and shiny? I don’t know. At any rate… why is this a thing? I don’t dislike it even, I just don’t understand it.
Because I am the Queen of Random Trivia in addition to being an Evil Overlord, I responded in the comments with what I knew about deckle edges. Shannon and the other commentators seemed to appreciate the information, so I thought a post about deckle edges might be of interest to others.
A deckle edge on a book is torn-edged paper, named for the removable frame on handmade paper, which is made with a screen nailed to a wooden frame. When the paper is pulled from the frame it leaves jagged edges. Most books today with deckle edges are really what book binders call rough-trimmed, making a deckle edge essentially un-trimmed or uncut. True deckles are found in handmade journals and other artistic projects. But we regular people can keep saying deckle for any rough-edged paper. In doing this research I learned of five (!) types of paper edges on books.
You can also get what we commonly call a deckle edge when attempting to read an unopened book.
According to Biblio.com this happens when all or some of the pages of a book have not been separated from the adjacent pages, caused by a traditional method for printing and binding books in which a large sheet of paper was printed with several pages, folded, and bound into the book.
This is also why a paper knife was a common household tool prior to the twentieth century. If you’ve watched the movie version of Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bennet, played by Donald Sutherland, reads with his paper knife in hand, slicing a few sections at a time. A paper knife is more like a letter opener than a true knife, hence the jaggedness. The knives were often sold together with a magnifying glass or as part of a desk set including pen nibs and an ink pot.
A rare book that is unopened or even partially unopened would be very valuable to collectors, but of little use to readers.
Have you ever come across unopened pages in a book? Do you find deckle edges or maybe dyed/painted edges annoying or pretentious?