"Help! My Gutter is Crinkling!": Two Theories on An Annoying Phenomenon

While putting together a forthcoming piece on Hendrickson's facsimile edition of the 1611 KJV, I ran into our old friend "crinkle gutter." If you're not in the know, here's a quick explanation. The gutter is the crease in the center of a page spread where the paper meets the binding. If you run your finger down the gutter, the pages should be smooth. But sometimes there's a wavy quality to the pages -- your finger flattens them as it moves, producing an unattractive crinkling sound.


As you can imagine, it's rather hard to capture this "crinkle gutter" phenomenon in a photograph. Fortunately, the 1611 KJV has an interior line running parallel to the gutter. If all were well, that line would appear straight. Instead, you cansee a hiccup here and there along the length. Here's another shot that captures the problem well:


As you can see, all along the gutter there are wavy intervals. This is the calfskin edition with a Smyth-sewn binding, so presumably the intentations correspond to stitches. Theorizing about the causes behind "crinkle gutter," a number of people have suggested that it's the result of the stitching being too tight. Perhaps someone in the print factory didn't know how to set the machines for super-thin Bible paper -- or the right machines weren't available. I'm not sure. One fact in support of the theory, though, is that the hardback edition of the same Bible from Hendrickson (with a glued binding) doesn't have the problem:


Case closed? Not exactly.You see, there's another quality the sewn edition possesses that its glued counterpart doesn't, and that's stiffness in the pages themselves. Flipping through the sewn book, I observe rigid clumps of pages which actually stand out from the binding like so:


Which leads me to wonder whether paper grain is an issue. When pages are stiff and wavy at the edge, the explanation often given is that page has been folded against the grain. While most of us manage to get through life just fine without being aware of the direction paper grain runs in, printers have to pay attention to such things:

“The printer also should check to see that the imposition is such that the grain of the paper runs parallel to the backbone of the book. Folding ‘cross-grain’ on the machines creates difficulties that slow up the job and are apt to result in wrinkling or buckling in the folding, and subsequent production of an inferior book.” from A Primer in Book Production by Frank B. Myrick (1945)

Note that the grain should run parallel to the gutter -- i.e., up and down -- and that if it doesn't, the results are poor. Does that include crinkling along the gutter? Someone with more definitive knowledge of paper and printing will have to weigh in on this. But I suspect it might.