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.