Deckled/uneven edges?

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Deckled/uneven edges?

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Edited: Dec 26, 2006, 5:51am

I'm just interested in how you book-people (yes, I'm being very technical here) feel about deckled/uneven edges on books? Do they depreciate the value any? By how much?

I like used books, because I'm poor, and they're cheap. I also get a lot of used books for free at the thrift store I help out at. I notice that a lot have these uneven edges—I can’t remember the exact term, but I looked it up and got the word “deckled”? (I've heard once that this comes from the book not being trimmed/cut right after the sheets were bound and cut into separate pages?)

Anyway, I recently got a nice copy of The Shining, simply because I want to read it before I watch the film, even though I've never been into Stephen King. Tonight, I decided to look up my book online; I noticed it looks like a first edition. The only problem? It's got those weird edges on the fore-edge.

I know nothing of what it does to a book's value; to me, uneven edges just make books look bad (which seems like it would make their value go down), even though that really doesn't detract from what's inside when you’re reading. Still, I recently refused to buy a book as a present because all--and I do mean ALL--the copies in the bookstore had uneven fore-edges, even though they were new and being sold as new. It just doesn’t seem ideal.

So, yeah… opinions?

Dec 26, 2006, 9:32am

On a book like The Shining, having a deckled edge is merely pretentious. Deckled edges are common, and even desirable, if a book is made from handmade paper. But that would not, obviously, be the case here. It's really a matter of taste when it comes to modern, mass-produced books.

More on deckled edges

Dec 26, 2006, 11:55am

I have noticed that many books, especially hardback kind of mysteries such as, for example, The pale blue eye, have deckled edges. I believe it is done to make them look "old" and more valuable. In fact, as I am sure most of us know, a deckled edge was practically the rule (with few exceptions) in 1800s and early 1900s books. I have a few valuable editions with deckled edges from those periods. I must say that I like the effect, even in contemporary books. As lilithcat says, it is a matter of taste but, in my opinion, it does not make the book look cheap.

Dec 26, 2006, 8:26pm

Aluvalibri said "it does not make the book look cheap" and, in fact, the publisher's intention is exactly to make the book look anything but cheap.
They don't depreciate the value, cutting them off would do so!

Here's a brief background:

Until the 19th Century, all books were printed on hand-made paper. To over-simplify, hand-made paper is produced by pulling a wire screen through a vat of fibre slurry to pick up exactly the amount of fibre to make one sheet of paper. To confine the spread of the fibres on the screen, and control the thickness of the loose fibres deposited on the screen, there is a (removable) frame around the surface of the screen. This frame in called a deckle.

Inevitably, a little fibre leaks under, and is trapped by, the deckle. When the frame is removed and the wet sheet of fibre is laid off on a stack with blankets, (to be pressed to remove the water), the ragged edges of the sheet, caused by the fibres which "leaked", remain on the sheet all through the drying process. These edges are called, - ta-da! - deckle edges.

It was extremely inefficient to cut these edges off sheets of paper before printing and binding. Originally, printing presses did not require that paper have even one smooth edge in order that all the sheets be printed (in register) uniformly. (From the 19th Century on, they did, but that history is a different subject). So, books were printed on these deckled sheets, then they were sewn up, and if desired, the deckles were planed off the top, and/or fore-edge and/or bottom of the book just before the covers were built on. Sometimes the book required a smooth top for gilding, for example, or a smooth fore-edge for decorating, etc.

With antiquarian books, it is extremely important that a book have exactly the form in which it was published. If it was published with a deckled fore-edge, it must remain that way, or the value will plummet. Re-binders are notorious for trimming without permission -- these heretics must be warned that there is an extremely deep level of Hades reserved for them!

Beyond the period when deckled edges were an automatic by-product of paper production, publishers continued with the convention of publishing their best books with deckled edges, and paper-makers accommodated them with machine-made paper on which at least two edges were deckled. (They still do.) While this was something of a conceit, it was still a mark of quality in that it imitated the hand-made look and indicated higher cost paper and handling. (Binding books to preserve their deckled edges is more difficult.)

So, in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, books continued to be published with deckled edges to identify quality paper and near hand-made production. Hence, with books of that period, leaving the deckled edges alone preserves that original mark of quality as well as the proof that the book has not been altered from its original state. This is very important to collectors and is thus essential if you ever expect to sell the book.

Presently, limited edition books, books from private presses (still hand-made and another whole different subject) and books their commercial publishers want to make seem of high and collectable quality, are still being published with deckled edges -- and sometimes with hand-made paper where the deckled edges are very definitely not a conceit.

The main problem with deckled edges is not that they are harder to page through, but that they trap dust. Accordingly, re-binders are often asked to trim the tops of books to facilitate dusting. Re-binders can do it, because the covers will have been removed. An owner, however, is not going to be able to do a respectable job of trimming pages so that they are uniform. This would quite frankly be the ruination of the book. Trimming fore-edges might seem easier, but because of the curve of the back, uniformity even in doing that would be near impossibility with a bound book.

Ergo, live with the deckled edges. Please?

Dec 26, 2006, 9:21pm

artisan, thank you for the wonderful and thorough explanation! :-))

Dec 26, 2006, 11:51pm

I also appreciate your excellent explanation of deckled edges, too. Thanks, artisan!

Dec 27, 2006, 12:35am

You're welcome. I care about such things so I tend to proselitize.

Dec 27, 2006, 1:17am

When you want the brain dump, seek the artisan. I couldn't have given even a close approximation of that most excellent historic perspective.

On the other hand, deckled edges have one huge drawback -- they collect dust. I don't consider myself to be pathological about it, but I have found that dust accumulates rather quickly on my shelves in central Texas. So, every couple of months I spend the better part of 2 weekends taking books off of shelves, dusting the shelves then dusting the books before placing them back on the shelves. Books with deckled fore-edges take 3 to 4 times a long to dust because you have to be very careful with the dust-magnet fore-edge. I swear, it's like butter in a hot Thomas's English Muffin!

Despite that, I never hesitate to buy a book with dappled fore-edges. If I had a choice though, between a First Edition with clean edges, and the same with dappled edges, I'd go for clean-cut every time.

Dec 27, 2006, 1:43am

Personally, I think it looks cool, but I can't stand it on reading copies of books. It makes it so hard to turn individual pages, its basically a pain in the ass.

Dec 27, 2006, 12:52pm

#8: When you want the brain dump, seek the artisan

Nay, nay. That was no brain dump, 'twas merely the tiniest fleck of antiquarian's dust from this brain! ;-P

Ouch! (Elbow seriously sprained.)

Edited: Dec 29, 2006, 10:21pm

Ergo, live with the deckled edges. Please?

Hey--I may be stupid, but I'm not that stupid! Then again, I might have thought trimming the edges myself would be a good idea when I was 12 or so.

I just like reading books, no matter what their condition (well, as long as it's still readable, that is). So, to me, the biggest problem with these edges is that I feel like it's much easier to ruin the pages when I'm reading it or carrying it around.

Thanks for all the information, everyone. I did have an idea what these kind of edges meant, but I never knew so much! This will definitely help me when sorting through books in the future.

Dec 29, 2006, 10:59pm

I assume most LT users like to read their books. Which means we have to deal with unopened books as well as just uncut ones. And there are some collectors who do prefer unopened to retain the exact form at original publication, like artisan said.

Another thing work noting is that there are lots of old books out there that are essentially worthless in the collector market as is. For them, adding a nice binding might well increase the value. I'm not sure why one would want to do that, but it does go to show that there is never a simple answer.

Jan 10, 2007, 9:22am

Dust on tops of books isn't just a nuisance; that's how bookworms get in, and is a reason to cultivate the habit of blowing dust off the top of any book before you open it.

Jan 10, 2007, 9:31am

Fogies, thanks for that advice. I never even thought of it before. I will do that from now on.

Jan 10, 2007, 9:48am

Fogies, thanks!!!!

Edited: Jan 10, 2007, 10:13am

More precisely, the eggs of certain kinds of paper-eating insect are laid on tops of books where if they hatch they begin eating. If allowed to fall into the interior of the book when it is opened, they are more likely to hatch and are in a position to do more damage.

A quick google shows there are lots more destructive book pests than we imagined. The link is to a list of them with info about their life cycles.

Mar 1, 2007, 2:05pm

4."With antiquarian books, it is extremely important that a book have exactly the form in which it was published."

I too loved Artisan's explanation, with one reservation. Sometimes I buy a book - nineteenth century, say - bwhere the pages, folded up for binding after printing have never been cut or trimmed. I don't consider it a sacrilege to slit the pages open with a paper knife to be able to read them. That is what the publisher expected and the author desired. I accept that someone not interested in reading the book may consider it devalued - but it is no worse than opening a bottle of rare wine to drink and enjoy the contents.

Mar 1, 2007, 3:04pm

In the trade, your "have never been cut or trimmed" is called "unopened" when you need to slit the pages apart to read them. In a rare book, this is an unbelievably valuable state, and it is a foolish collector who fails to buy an "ordinary" copy for reading.

Yes, it is what the author and publisher expected to be done, but they most likely expected it to be done by the binder. When the binding process preserves many unopen signatures, it is probably because the binder in deliberately creating a "collectible". One exception to this is when the printer's makeready is faulty and the folder has to short-change one of the margins of a signature so that the text body will line up from page to page. This creates narrow signatures which are missed by the binder's cutter. That's still a collectible point, as a error.

I have no idea what a wine collector expects to do with the unopened bottle of wine from Thomas Jefferson's cellar for which he paid hundreds of thousands of dollars - (I forget how much), but I feel certain it is not to drink it!

Mar 1, 2007, 10:06pm

I hope you'll all pardon the shameless link, but I thought given this discussion some of you might find interesting a recent little investigation I conducted. It's got to do with unopened leaves, butter, and several famous poets.

Mar 4, 2007, 4:09pm

jbd1 Your link is a little gem. Thanks.
Those "in the trade" will be reassured to know that the chance of me getting my hands on a book worth thousands of dollars are slightly less than my prospects of adding one of Thomas Jefferson's bottles to my cellar. Still, with books "bought cheaply" cutting the pages adds another layer of pleasure to the experience of reading - as the content of the pages appears, so too does a new pattern at the edge of each page, created by the reader.

Jun 4, 2007, 10:18am

I learn so much from you people. I just purchased the new Einstein book by Walter Isaacson. While making my choice I noticed that the deckling on some copies was much rougher than others, and I mean down right raggedy. I picked out the smoothest one. I realize this is a best seller and they are rushing to get the shelves filled. How do you tell when it's just deckled or when the book is actually badly made?