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[BKARTS] Unopened leaves

The question is probably best addressed country by country, since national practice varies considerably. What follows refers to English and American practice.

The outer edges of the leaves of a book cannot be trimmed properly until the folded sheets or gatherings have been secured to the spine, either by sewing them onto cords or tapes, or by gluing them in place. In the hand-press period before 1800 or thereabouts, the binder (or, rather, the person paying the binder's bill and thus calling the shots) has a number of choices.

Gilding. If the outer edges of the leaves are to be gilt, it is necessary to trim them, cutting off the bolts or folds at the top and fore edges that will almost invariably occur in octavo, duodecimo, and smaller formats, in order to provide a smooth surface on which to adhere the gold leaf. (Gilding on the rough, i.e. on trimmed but not cut edges, is a difficult procedure, seldom [so far as I know] employed in trade binding.) After trimming the top bolts in octavo and other smaller formats, the binder will often trim the fore-edges and bottom edges, as well. (In quarto format, only the top edges need to be trimmed, though, again, the other edges may also be trimmed -- the rough edges of folded hand-made paper sheets are dirt-catchers, and they were usually trimmed off in up-market work.)

In boards. If the book is to be put into a temporary or non-permanent binding (e.g. paper wrappers, or paper-cover boards), the binder has no need either to open the bolts with a paper knife or to trim them with a plough (American: plow) [see
for an image of plough at work].
Binding work during the hand-press period (and for a long time afterwards) is piece-work; the more books you can bind in a day, the more you get paid for the day's work. The history of bookbinding over the past several centuries, as Nicholas Pickwoad and others have eloquently pointed out, is to a considerable extent the history of the progressive abbreviation of binding structures.

Trimming the outer edges of a bound book with a plough is time-consuming. Guillotine cutters --see
-- capable of trimming the leaves on one edge of the book at a single go, did not come into common use (so far as I can remember -- I am writing this from a hotel lobby in Tallahassee [and clearly with time on my hands!]) until after the American Civil War.

Once cloth binding was introduced into routine trade binding in the 1830s, the publisher had the option of ordering either trimmed or untrimmed edges. Untrimmed edges would be slightly cheaper, but the added expense of trimming the edges was probably less significant than customs of the trade. Newspapers typically arrived with untrimmed edges at least throughout the first half of the c19 (you had the maid open the bolts for you). My impression is that novels as a genre were particularly likely to arrive in full cloth bindings but with uncut bolts, but for authoritative information on this subject we need to hear from c19 specialists.

A great deal more information than you are likely to want about the progress of c19 trade binding can be found in Frank Comparato's book, "Books for the Millions: A History of the Men Whose Methods and Machines Packaged the Printed Word" (1971). The book is long out of print, but copies are cheaply available from the usual sources!

On Sat, 28 Feb 2009 01:34:05 -0600
 Kathleen Garness <kmgfinearts@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
So I'm curious - why DID the publishers/booksellers not cut the pages?


On Feb 28, 2009, at 1:50 AM, roroberts@xxxxxxxx wrote:

I just read a good bookbinding quote in Charles Reade's "Christie Johnstone", published in 1853. Describing how a gentleman passes time on a journey:
"[Your manservant] puts in your hand a new tale like this; you mourn the superstition of booksellers, which still inflicts uncut leaves upon humanity, though tailors do not send home coats with the sleeves stitched up..."

Bob Roberts www.gildedleafbindery.com

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Terry Belanger . University Professor and Honorary Curator of Special Collections . University of Virginia . 114 Alderman Library . Charlottesville, VA 22904-4103 . voice 434-924-8851 . fax 434-924-8824 . email <belanger@xxxxxxxxxxxx> . URL <www.rarebookschool.org>

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