This article is about a leather spine reback where the original spine was reused in the repair.
This little 18th century volume arrived with its front cover detached. The edges of its covers were quite worn and spongey and it lacked its original spine label.
It is often near-impossible to remove the spine intact on these small 18th century bindings. The technique used in the original binding process required the leather to be pared very thinly. It was then stuck directly to the spine of the text block. (Later binding styles incorporated a layer or two of paper between the text block and the spine leather. This makes it much easier to separate one from the other if a repair is required). Consequently, the dried out spine leather often crumbles in the process of trying to lift it. This makes it unusable with regard to incorporating it into the repair.
Leather spine reback aided by past use of specialist leather dressing
In this instance however, though the front cover had detached, the book had obviously been well looked-after in the past. Someone had applied a coating of specialist leather dressing to the leather spine at some point in its recent history. Consequently, the spine leather wasn’t at all dry and flaky and the spine came off easily and in one piece. Handy because despite being quite a plain spine, the owner was keen for me to re-use it in the repair.
The book was rebacked in calf to match the original covering material. I then consolidated the worn and spongey edges of the covers to a hard finish. The original spine was then mounted onto the new spine. This left little of the new leather visible apart from at the ends of the spine and along the hinges.
Finally, I made new lettering pieces for the spine. These were lettered in a style appropriate for the era and subject matter of the book. As this volume contained three year’s worth of periodicals, the second spine label listed the dates of those publications. This was in keeping with examples of similar volumes that I found iafter researching them online.
Always preferable to reuse the original spine in the reback of a leather spine
Had the book not recently been treated with a leather dressing, the spine would have been impossible to remove intact. With a more decorative spine, this would make a huge difference to the look of a leather spine reback. I always recommend that owners of leather-bound books obtain a specialist leather dressing to periodically use on their bindings. This helps to preserve them from the ravages of sunlight and central heating, the enemies of leather bound books. By doing so, it also makes it easier to preserve most of the original binding if the book requires repair.
Which leather dressing to use on old books?
I use and recommend ‘Marney’s Conservation Leather Dressing’ which can easily be found using an online search. There are of course, other brands out there too. I apply a generous coating to every leather binding that I work on before returning it to its owner. I believe that every serious collector of leather-bound books should consider owning and using a tub of this specialist wax. One small tub may well last you the rest of your life if your library isn’t huge. An application every 2-5 years will literally add years of life to any leather binding in your collection!