We all know that it happens (or happened) but when was the last book published with uncut pages? You read in Victorian novels about readers sitting with knife in hand, cutting the folds of the pages as they go. In modern book manufacturing the edges of the book block are trimmed off before the book is inserted into its case (after, if it’s a paperback), so we don’t have to put up with this chore any longer. I dare say we have actually had books with uncut pages not that long ago, but the uncut book would have came from one of those bibliophile societies like the Roxburghe Club. For regular books, the kind you or I might own, I’ve no real idea when books stopped appearing like that. Perhaps we have to go back to the time when books were sold unbound, and the purchaser was responsible for taking it to a bookbinder to have it bound. However,
the book described in this blog post, Philip Henry Gosse’s Evenings at the Microscope, was printed in 1902.
I know I’ve cut the pages on a book, but I can’t for the life of me remember when or what book it was. I suspect it may well be that what I’m remembering is having to cut the folds when, in the office, a literal-minded printer had sent us a real set of f & gs, not the set of f, g & ts (“folded, gathered and trimmed” as if such an acronym existed) which we really wanted. Maybe what I’m actually remembering is merely that vanishingly rare faulty book where the trimmer is off and the top edge doesn’t get properly trimmed leaving some sigs with their folds still in place.
In BBC 4’s 21st Century Mythologies podcast, Peter Conrad suggests that the uncut page adds to our physical experience of reading. I do think if we are moving into a world where the printed book is to become a sort of luxury, gift item, that emphasizing the physicality of the object by leaving the folds in the signatures uncut might be a good policy.