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Two Signs of a HIGH-QUALITY Book

· Fine Book Collecting,Deckled Edges,Dust Jackets,Renaissance,Art Books

As regular readers of my musings may recall, I usually have three books on my bedside table. When I go to bed I can pick one that fits my mood, or more often, I read a chapter from all three: Appetizer; Main Course; Dessert! Or until I fall asleep.

Last night, after supper, I decided to go outside and read, it was such a beautiful evening. I grabbed the three books, got Freyja a bone to chew on, and I sat down by the table to read. First up was Donna Leon’s Doctored Evidence, the 13th book in the Commissario Brunetti series. (Readers will be familiar this this author also – my current favourite and subject of my Musing of November 30, 2019: Found Novelist #5 – Donna Leon).

Deckled Edges

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When I looked up from reading Leon, I noticed that the other two books, one on top of the other, had the same edges – deckled edges. Wow, I said to myself, not only are the two books really great reads, but they are of the same high quality. And they were from different publishers. Why did I associate deckled edges with high quality – from personal experience over the past 40+ years, I found that this was a sign of high-quality paper, and of the books in general. Publishers did this with their top-of-the-line books. Higher cost with a higher price. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about deckled edges:

"Before the 19th century, the deckle edge was unavoidable, a natural artifact of the papermaking process in which sheets of paper were made individually on a deckle. The deckle could not make a perfect seal against the screen at the edges and the paper slurry would seep under, creating a rough edge to the paper. The deckle edge could be trimmed off, but this extra step would add to the cost of the book.[2] Beginning in the early 1800s with the invention of the Fourdrinier machine, paper was produced in long rolls and the deckle edge became mostly obsolete. Although there was some deckle on the ends of the rolls, it was cut off, and the individual sheets cut out from the roll would have no deckle in any case.

With the appearance of smooth edges in the 19th century, the deckle edge slowly emerged as a status symbol. Many 19th-century presses advertised two versions of the same book: one with edges trimmed smooth, the other a higher-priced deckle version. This suggested the deckle book was made with higher-quality paper, or with more expensive methods. This tradition carried forward into the 20th and 21st centuries. As of 2016, modern deckle is produced by a purpose-built machine to give the appearance of a true deckle edge by cutting a smooth edge into patterns. Ironically, the apparent value of a deckle edge is, in part, the impression that it is hand-made, an inherently greater expense than mass-production.

Many modern readers are unfamiliar with the deckle edge and may see it as a defect; for example, has left notes to book buyers clarifying that the deckle is not a flaw in the product. A deckle edge is unrelated to the practice of unopened pages, in which a reader must cut open pages with a knife."

And what are these two books that were in the pile and beside my bed at night, these days.

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The Book on the BookShelf, by Henry Petroski, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1999. This is the story behind the development of bookcases. Yum – we only have 19 of those things in the house, with a need for more of these contraptions!

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The Bookseller of Florence, the Story of the Manuscripts that Illuminated the Renaissance, by Ross King, Doubleday Canada, 2021. This is the story of Vespasiano da Bisticci, who as a bookseller and publisher, hired the scribes and illuminators to create books for the likes of the Medici family. And whenever I thought of manuscripts, it was of monks. Nope, there were professional producers of manuscripts, too!

French Fold Dust Jackets

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French fold dust jackets have an extra flap on the top and bottom of the dust jacket. It provides extra protection for the dust jacket, at the edges are folds that are much stronger than edges. These dust jackets are usually of a higher quality paper and are an indicator that the publisher considers this book to be of a higher quality than their usual product. I have found these dust jackets only on large and heavy art books, and the extra protection of the dust jacket is meaningful. The two examples shown are from two publishers that use the French fold dust jackets on their higher end books: Abbeville Press (the Gauguin) and Harry N. Abrams (the Islam). So, when I am looking to buy an art book, I check to see if a French fold Dust Jacket has been used, as an indicator of quality and value.

Thumbs up for books with deckled edges and/or French fold dust jackets!

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