The History of Bookbinding

The History of Bookbinding - Juniper Custom

Humanity has collected stories since before the beginning of the book. The importance of sharing our stories is unquestionable, and the history of the written book is extensive; starting with the clay tablet and advancing to the digital tablet!

The first “books” were engravings in rock to keep track of records and other information. This continued on to the papyrus scroll and finally arrived at parchment. It took many stages of trial and error to find the best way to perfectly bind the book. Many different materials were used to try and protect the pages in the binding, ranging from wood to leather. In the end, leather was the most fitting until the modern age whereas we now use paper and cardboard.

Photo courtesy of For the Love of Books

With our easy access to books in today’s day and age, it can be easy to take them for granted. Before the printing press, books were handmade. They were laborious to make and expensive. This made it difficult for the lower classes to get hold of, and literacy was not widespread. Sadly, the written word was an elitist pastime. Books and information were used as a way of control by systems of government. Those in authority realized that knowledge was power and tried to keep it contained. Juniper Books Founder, Thatcher Wine, discusses this in his recently published book, For the Love of Books. In For the Love of Books, readers are also encouraged to appreciate the printed word and our ability to access them today.

Books are so accessible nowadays thanks to Johannes Gutenberg who invented the printing press in the 1400s. The printing press made books easier to make and more cost-effective. As the spread of language accelerated, so did the ability to read and write, effectively allowing more access to the written word to people in all economic classes.

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With the new technology of the printing press at hand, the demand for books rose steadily and this rise led to the development of new binding techniques and productions. Today we have hardcovers and paperbacks galore, but they are not always produced the same way. With hardbacks, many publishers still offer what is considered an older style of pages: the deckle-edge.

So don’t be concerned if your new book doesn’t have the straight, clean pages like you’re used to. The deckle-edge is simply a byproduct of the process using a deckle (a cutting machine) that leaves untrimmed, rough pages. The deckle-edge has come to be known as a more refined, high-end treatment of books, that calls back to a time before large machines had the ability to cut each page with the precision we are used to these days.

Many people have never encountered this style of book before and are left with questions. Some even take it up with the author of the book just like a fan of Neil Gaiman’s, writer of American Gods (included in our Neil Gaiman Set!), did.

Nowadays, there is a huge debate amongst readers over their preferences: a deckle-edged book or a trimmed book. We suggest not getting too caught up in the debate: what really matters is what’s inside the book.