Some ‘sprätting’ necessary

Sorry about that. I’m not really sure what ‘sprätta’ is in English. Unpick was suggested, but feels wrong. It’s what you used to have to do to – some – books in Sweden in the olden days (those olden days include my own past, so really ‘quite recently’).

I was reminded of this interesting pastime when the Guardian television guide came needing some ‘sprätting’ to be usable. I reached across the kitchen and grabbed the old letter opener I had recently remembered I had, and set to work. It was oddly satisfying, sitting there opening page after page.

But to do it to a whole book? And to book after book? Well, it pales after a while.

In my childhood – youth, even – books first came both as a fancy hardback and often as ‘häftad,’ which was cheaper. It would be exactly the same pages, only not cut open, and in a soft binding. Sort of like a rougher version of today’s large format trade paperbacks.

You had the choice of either slitting open every page at once, which took forever. Or, you could read with the letter opener in one hand, slitting as you went. If you tired of either book or slitting, you’d leave behind a half open book.

Apparently there are now people who have never come across this. I googled the term and found various blog posts on the subject, where people felt hard done by, having bought an old book and discovering it was a ‘closed’ book. They thought they’d been cheated (rather like Mr and Mrs School Friend did when they visited a tearoom in Buxton many years ago, and found one pot was full of tea and the other only had water in it…). And many commenters on these blogs said they’d never even heard of this type of book.

I mostly didn’t buy books back then, being a little too young to feel I could actually afford to. But I was struck by how relatively cheap the ‘häftad’ version was, and would definitely have gone for that, had I been buying.

I own a few books like this, either inherited from someone, or bought second hand. I think they look nicely craggy.

But I’m fully aware I wasn’t the one wielding the knife.

5 responses to “Some ‘sprätting’ necessary

  1. Gosh those days feel like ancient history! exciting though to pick up a book no one else has opened!

  2. Our family used to have a letter opener in the shape of a mini-Excalibur which also did double duty for slitting open uncut/conjoined pages of books, so this brought back memories.

    I suppose it goes back to the days when quarto and octavo really were large sheets of paper folded that number of times to create mini-books which were then sewn and glued together and bound. I guess at some stage there was some cutting of page edges with a guillotine; if hardbacks are still produced like this it’ll all be done by machine. I must now potter off to check if I’m talking through my hat…

  3. Have definitely sprätted, in England, post 1900, but not entire book!

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