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Deckle Edges or Uncut Edges on a Book

Often called uncut or untrimmed edges, deckle edges are a topic of some confusion and debate in the book world. Once largely unavoidable and probably annoying, the pages are now a conscious design choice, and while some are for it, and some are against it, a lot of people are just confused by it. Here at AbeBooks we’ve seen some customers receive a deckle edge book and feel unhappy, as though the binder or publisher had done a sloppy, unfinished job with the book.

The deckle edge was unavoidable until the 19th century, a byproduct of the papermaking process. Since it became unnecessary, the rough edge gradually turned into a status symbol. Advertisements for books in the late 1800s are rife with mentions of a “deckle edge” alongside the fine paper on which a title was printed. But even that aspect has begun to fade as modern book buyers do not know what to make of it.

Paper begins as a suspension of fibres in a water slurry that is drained through a screen. A frame temporarily placed around the screen to restrain the mixture in place is known as a deckle. A papermaker lifts the deckle after draining sufficient water and before pressing the paper with felt and continuing the process to a finished sheet.

The deckle cannot make a perfect seal against the screen, and fibres seep under its edge, which creates the rough-edged pattern. Before the era of continuously produced paper, which began with the invention in the early 1800s of the so-called Fourdrinier machine, all paper had a deckle edge. That edge could be trimmed or not. Sarah Werner of the Folger Shakespeare Library says there appears to be no rhyme or reason in the books she has examined as to why one might be shorn of roughness while another reveals the papermaking process. Timothy Barrett, an expert on historical papermaking at the University of Indiana agrees. He says the fashion for deckle edges has waxed and waned, though the edges were mostly trimmed.

Want to see what we mean? We have a video showing exactly what a deckle edge, or uncut edge, looks like on a book. Enjoy.

The Economist has a great piece illuminating the process and its history today.

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Beth Carswell

About Beth Carswell

I've been reading, selling, researching, loving and writing about books with AbeBooks since 2000.

5 Responses to “Deckle Edges or Uncut Edges on a Book”

  1. I’ve always associated the “deckle edge” with book club editions. I thought it was to show that the book had come from a discounted source.

  2. I ordered a biography on Thomas Cranmer from Abe Books, and was thrilled when the 1898 edition arrived uncut. What a great surprise!

  3. Beth Carswell

    That’s great, Van. Always happy to hear that a customer has an extra good experience. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Hi Beth:

    Do you know where I can get short run (500) soft cover books printed with a deckle edge? Trim size: 5.5 x 8.5

    Thank you!


  5. I am currently reading a 2012 paperback edition of The Melrose Novels which sports a lovely rough “hand cut” style of leading edge. Turning the pages as I read I was reminded of the many old flea market and auction house uncut books I bought, cut and read in my now rather distant youth.

    Each cut was like opening a gift. Cutting brought my book to life! As the reader I also helped make the book. (A single, long blade, a letter opener perhaps, not too sharp and never scissors! Best to hold the book gently closed, blade inserted, to make a decent cut.)

    The cut edge is not a deckle. It is done by the reader not the paper maker. A book that was cut and thus read (or cut, tantalizingly, up to page 26 and set aside…) had two special qualities, the first being the sense of an intimacy with previous readers and the second being the tactile pleasure of turning those soft edged pages. The book and its paper offering small, sensual greetings as we travel a fiction’s stream. My current Melrose pages give breath to both of these. (The stories printed upon them are rather less comforting.)

    I agree with the observation of L.H. regarding the standard page style of “book club” editions. I suppose they are meant to look “cut” (thus “hand made”) and make the editions appear less chintzy. A real molded deckle edged paper is more chaotic and tapering on two of its opposing edges with the other two often “torn”, straight and rough, very much like a page cut edge, especially after the book has been read a few times. (Of course there are single molded hand made sheets that are deckled on all four sides like those very thick ones used for some water color painting and print making.)

    May Abe Books live forever!

    (Try as I may the digital novel fails me. Five sit, barely cut. No mystery there.)