Deckled Edges: Affectation or Beauty?

This is post #4 of #BlogchatterA2Z.

This includes blogging every day in April for 26 days, except on Sundays. What’s special about it is that every day’s post will be corresponding to each letter of the alphabet. 

My theme for 2021 is Bookish TriviaIf you liked this post, don’t forget to “roll” me on Blogchatter’s website!

All my #BlogchatterA2Z posts 2021 can be found here.

Deckle Edges are an example of our nostalgia for the past. They refer to uneven edges of paper that were produced during manual papermaking. Today, machines can imitate the deckled edge effect to give a book an aesthetic feel.

A deckle is a wooden frame that is set inside the papermaking mold. The deckle does not fit perfectly within the mold, thus allowing paper slurry to enter the space under the edges of the deckle. This is what creates the deckle edges of the paper.

Modern machines try to copy the deckle edge effect by using a jet of air or water while making paper. Or the dry paper could be given deckle edges by using a special knife, tearing, sawing or sand blasting.

Collectors consider deckled edges beautiful instead of a manufacturing defect, hence books with such edges are prized.

History of deckle edges

The art of papermaking originated in China between 25 CE and 220 CE during the Eastern Han period. The know-how of papermaking began to spread throughout Asia. In Japan, a deckle (wooden frame) was added to the technique that led to the formation of deckled edges. After the paper was made, the uneven edges were usually cut off because they were considered a defect.

Europe began to gain knowledge of manual papermaking by the 11th century. Here, too, the deckled edges were trimmed off–either by the papermaker or by the book binder. However, cutting off the edges added to the cost of the book.

Some book binders trimmed off too much, almost removing the margins. It was a notorious practice in the 17th century.

What’s the fuss about deckle edges?

Before the 19th century, it wasn’t possible to create paper without deckled edges.

In the early 1800s, the Fourdrinier machine was invented that produced paper in long rolls and individual sheets were cut out. Thus, no deckle edges were formed. The end of the roll could have a deckled edge, but it was trimmed off.

Now that deckled edges had been wiped out, they became a collector’s item in the 19th century. Two versions of the same book were marketed–one with smooth edges and the other with deckled edges.

Unsurprisingly, deckled edge books were priced higher to create the impression that they were of superior quality.

In modern times, deckled edges are admired as ornamentation. Funnily enough, machines are used to imitate the look of handmade paper.

However, librarians do not like such books because the edges collect dust, the pages are difficult to turn, and some even consider the look ugly.

Not a lot of people know about deckle edges and sometimes complain to sellers that the book they’ve received is defective:

I found this interesting YouTube tutorial that explains how paper can be made by hand and given deckled edges:

Papermaking tutorial with mold and deckle edges



20 thoughts on “Deckled Edges: Affectation or Beauty?

  1. How interesting! I always thought those pages were uneven due to loose bookbinding! Such Interesting information, loving the series!

  2. I would like my book to have proper lines pages and I doubt I would read a book with uneven pages. But this was interesting to knw that it was done on purpose.

  3. I would find it difficult to read a book that has pages with deckled edges, as my OCD would be making me want to smoothen and sharpen them!:)

  4. Interesting article, didn’t know that that specific type had a name! And I can totally understand that people think that the book is broken/unfinished, it does look like that. XD This type is definitely not a fav of mine. I think it looks unfinished/not pretty and flipping through the pages isn’t the easiest. I generally tend to avoid these books if I come across them (though sadly one has no choice), so I am kind of glad publishers stopped making them as I buy a lot of books on Amazon. Haha.

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