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In Bookbinding, what are Gauffered Edges?

By S. Mithra
Updated May 23, 2024
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Gauffered edges of a bound book have been decorated with textured scrolls and indentations, usually in conjunction with gilding. European bookbinders developed this highly ornate means of adornment during the late 15th century that continued into the 1800s. They used heat, tools, and rollers, to create indented patterns or crimped designs on top of gilding.

Also known as chased or goffered, gauffered edges derive from the French word for "honeycomb." With the invention of presses, the small literate class wished to own a book that was as elegant and elaborate as possible. Thus, they featured gold lettering, ribbon closures, embroidered cloth covers and gilded edges covered in a thin layer of real gold leaf. To further embellish the thick pages, the edges were delicately carved or impressed with tools called pointillé.

The delicate, repeating motifs may remind you of colored wallpaper. The design isn't achieved through ink, though, but a variation on embossing. Gilding does not only come in the quintessential bright gold color, but other metallic shades. One technique included layering gold leaf in different colors and imprinting or scraping away the design to different depths to simulate inks. Another technique used a single pointed pointillé to create shapes out of a series of dots. Pastiches of flowers, vases, and ribbons decorated the edges.

Historically, gauffered edges were most abundant from 1590-1650. The recent advent of the printing press encouraged the craft of books that the small, literate class valued as works of art. For instance, an exquisite edition of a Latin New Testament was available with a leather binding, woodcut illustrations, and gilded and gauffered edges.

A gauffering revival of sorts occurred much later, in the late 18th and 19th centuries. While there was a large, literate European and American population, sumptuous special editions of Bibles, Encyclopedias, Dictionaries, or poetry countered the popularity of cheap, quick dime novels. Publishers sought to elevate the book to a piece of artistry that would be cherished for generations to come. Nostalgia created tomes that reminded readers of a time when things were handmade with great care.

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