In bibliographies such as Stephen Garrison’s Edith Wharton: A Descriptive Bibliography, you’ll see information like this: “Typography and paper: 5 5/8″ x 3 3/8″; laid paper with vertical chain lines 13/16″ apart; 27 lines per page: Running heads: rectos and versos ‘THE HOUSE OF MIRTH.'” (76)
What is laid paper? There’s a more elegant explanation here, but basically it’s paper that has been created by drying on a form that has vertical and horizontal “chains.” When the paper dries, the parts where the chains were obviously could not absorb the paper pulp and appear lighter when you shine a light through the page. Figure 1 shows the laid paper marks on page 136 from The House of Mirth.
Wove paper (see discussion here) is paper that has been created in a form with brass (or other) wires woven together, so that no specific pattern is visible, except perhaps a watermark, which is made by putting a piece of wire with a logo or pattern in the form before the paper pulp is added. There aren’t any chain lines or pattern in wove paper. Figure 2 is the same page (p. 136) from a different printing of The House of Mirth, but it’s on wove rather than laid paper.
Why does it matter whether a book is on wove or laid paper?
The type of paper is just one of the many features used in, you guessed it, descriptive bibliographies so that scholars and book collectors will know which edition and printing of a book they have. In the case of The House of Mirth, knowing that Figure 1 has “laid paper” helps to determine that it is the first or second printing of the first edition. Figure 2 is on wove paper, and, since according to Garrison “Starting with the third Scribners printing, wove paper was used instead of laid” (80), I know that Figure 2 is from a third or later printing.
Disclaimer: I’m obviously not a rare books historian but thought this brief piece of information might be useful.