This article is about Bible repair, leather spine restoration and corner repair and restoration.
It’s over a year since I last added anything to this work diary and 2016 was a very busy year. A wide selection of books both antiquarian and modern passed through the bindery for restoration or repair. These ranged from treasured childhood story books to family Bibles and rare antiquarian volumes.
Many of my recent repairs have been in the same vein as other examples shown in posts in this diary. However, here are a few that show aspects of my work that I haven’t previously touched on:
RESTORATION OF A TORN AND RUBBED 17th CENTURY LEATHER BINDING
This rare 17th century French book on fencing, in a sheep skin binding, was externally in poor condition. Its spine was torn and its corners were heavily rubbed. These images show what the binding looked like when the book arrived:
Though quite torn and damaged, most of the original spine was still present. I removed this and set it aside to re-use later. I then rebuilt the corners in new board spliced-in to the original covers. These were then re-covered in leather to match the original covering material.
The book was then rebacked in leather to match the original covering material. Following that, the remaining parts of the original spine were mounted onto the new one. There were areas of the original spine where some of the gold tooling was missing. This was principally at the top and bottom of the spine. Replacement gold decoration was ‘tooled-in’ to these areas in a style in keeping with the original decoration. Finally, a preservative leather dressing was applied to the whole binding.
These images show the spine before and after reatoration:
These show the front and back covers after reatoration:
BIBLE REPAIR INCLUDING REPAIRS TO THE TITLE PAGE AND FRONTISPIECE.
This beautifully-illustrated 18th century family Bible had been rebacked at some point in the past. That Bible repair had since failed, resulting in both covers becoming detached. As a result, the frontispiece and title page had become torn and creased. There was also loss at the corners and edges of the pages. The top and bottom edges of the frontispiece had also been roughly trimmed at some point in the past.
These images show the condition of the title page and engraved frontispiece:
I carefully removed the frontispiece and title page from the text block. These were damp-pressed to press out the creases as best as possible. There was extensive loss to the edges and corners of both pages and they were fairly worn and fragile. Consequently, it was not practical to simply repair the edges of the pages. This would have left them prone to damage if handled roughly. Instead, the pages were laminated onto sheets of handmade paper and pressed again. Once dry, the pages were sewn back in and then trimmed down to size to match the book’s dimensions.
Repairs to the binding
Once the paper repairs were complete, I turned my attention to the binding itself. The covers were in a fairly poor state with the corners and edges heavily worn. The leather covering on the covers was quite rubbed and powdery. These images give an idea of the condition of the binding:
The corners were rebuilt using new board spliced-in to the original boards and were then re-covered in new leather. The remains of the old reback were carefully removed and new headbands were sewn to replace the missing originals:
The book was then rebacked in calf to match the original covering material. The spine was tooled in gold in a style sympathetic to ‘standard’ family Bibles of the period. These images show the Bible repair once it was completed:
REPAIR OF A FINELY-BOUND 17th CENTURY BIBLE.
This finely-bound and richly-decorated 17th century Bible had extensive damage to it’s corners. There were also small tears to the ends of the front and rear hinges at the headcaps. This was its condition when it arrived for repair:
With a plainer binding, it would have been most expedient to reback the volume. The original spine could have been mounted onto the new leather and the corners repaired as best as possible. In this instance though, the rich gilt decoration was an important feature of the binding. The removal of a book’s original spine for re-use can sometimes result in a small amount of loss. Therefore, it seemed more appropriate to repair the splits to the hinges as they were rather than to reback. The corners would also have to be rebuilt and re-covered.
The Bible restoration process
The edges of the splits at the hinges and headcaps were carefully lifted away from the binding. Small thinly pared pieces of matching leather were inserted underneath the lifted leather to create new headcaps. The original leather was then pasted down over the new leather patches and the repairs ‘tooled-in’ with gold lines. The corners were rebuilt with new board and covered with thinly-pared leather. The areas of new leather were then tooled in gold in a style sympathetic to the remaining gold decoration. Next, the rubbed areas of leather on the covers and spine were carefully re-coloured. Finally, a preservative leather dressing was applied to the whole binding. These images show what the binding looked like after the Bible repair:
LOCALISED REPAIR TO A SPLIT LEATHER HINGE.
This 17th century binding was in remarkably good condition apart from a split at it’s upper front hinge. There were also a few small worm-holes on the front cover.
The worm-holes would have been very time-consuming to remedy and were left as they were. However, repairing the split was feasible option that would greatly improve the aesthetic look of the binding.
The edges of the split were carefully lifted and a small piece of thinly-pared leather was inserted underneath. This was then ‘turned-in’ to repair the missing area of the headcap around the split. The edges were then carefully pasted down again. Once the repair was dry, the existing blind-tooled lines adjacent to the headcap were extended over the visible new leather. Finally, an application of preservative leather dressing was applied to the whole binding.
These images show the repaired split:
REBACKED SPINES WITH CONTEMPORARY STYLE TOOLING
If the original spine of a leather-bound book is lost or beyond practical repair, it is almost always possible to replace it. The process is known as ‘rebacking’. The new spine can then be tooled in gold in a style sympathetic to the original, as was the case with these 3 volumes: