Restoration and repair of leather book bindings

Leather bound books can become weak at the hinges of the front and back covers. This is where the leather covering is at its thinnest.

The book’s hinges can start to split. This can be caused by the dry atmosphere of centrally heated rooms, exposure to direct sunlight, decades spent in the acidic environment of coal-burning towns or simply heavy usage.

Eventually one or both covers can become detached. Following this, the spine or parts of the spine can become detached as well.

Headcaps on Leather Books

Headcaps (the rolled edges at the top and bottom of the spine) are also vulnerable. The upper headcap is often the place that a book is grasped when pulling it from a bookshelf. The lower headcap is the area that receives the most wear when the book is returned to the shelf. These can become worn away, precipitating the disintegration of the spine.

Repairing a damaged book spine

Damage to a book’s hinges or spine can be remedied by a process known as ‘rebacking’. To reback a book:

  • I carefully remove the spine of the book (when possible).
  • I then lift the leather closest to the hinges on the covers.
  • This enables me to insert a new piece of leather to create a new spine.
  • The lifted leather is then pasted down again.
  • During this process, I firmly re-attach the covers to the text block.
  • If the original spine is reusable, it is carefully glued back into position onto the new spine.
  • I then re-tool areas where parts of the original spine have been lost, closely matching the original decoration.
  • The inside hinges are neatly repaired with a strip of paper. The paper is chosen to closely match the tone of the original endpapers. I keep a large and varied stock of old marbled and coloured papers specifically for this purpose.
  • If the edges and corners of the binding are frayed or rubbed, I consolidate them to leave a hard and durable finish.
  • Finally, I apply a specialist leather dressing to the whole binding.
  • This book had lost the lower part of its spine
  • The spine of this book was repaired with the decoration in the missing area replicated
  • This book’s spine was held on with tape and the back cover was detached.
  • The spine of this book was repaired with the original spine re-used
  • This book’s spine was torn and starting to detach
  • The spine repaired with the original spine re-used

Book repair when the spine is missing

It is not always possible to re-use the original spine of a leather bound book. Sometimes the leather is just too worn and frail to remove the spine without it crumbling. Or, the original spine may have become detached in years gone by and is now lost.

Rebacking a book

In these instances, the book is rebacked as described above. I then endeavour to sympathetically tool the new spine in gold to closely emulate the style and look of the original. The end result retains the aesthetic ‘feel’ of the book, commensurate with it’s age.

  • The spines on these volumes were too fragile to be removed intact
  • The books were rebacked and the spine decoration replicated in the style of the original.

See more examples of leather book spine replacement »

How much does it cost to repair a leather bound book?

Prices start at £120 per volume if the original spine can be re-used.

The price increases for books larger than around 20cm (8 inches) in height.

If the original spine is lost or cannot be re-used or if additional repairs are required, this will increase the price.

Corner repairs on leather book bindings

The corners of leather bindings can be prone to damage. The combination of very thin leather and years of handling can cause the leather covering to wear through at the tip. This can cause the exposed board beneath to start to fray and crumble.

Choosing to have the corners of your book repaired is often an aesthetic rather than essential decision. However, if a corner is so badly worn that it no longer protects the text block, a repair is always advisable.

Repairing a damaged corner of a leather book

In this process:

  • I carefully lift the remaining leather around the tip of the corner.
  • The worn tip of the exposed board beneath is then rebuilt back to ‘square’.
  • I then re-cover the repaired tip in new leather to match the original.
  • Finally, I paste the lifted area of leather back down.
  • The result is a neat and barely visible repair.
Three examples of worn corners that were rebuilt to square and then re-covered

See more examples of repairs to damaged corners »

Corner repair pricing

Corner repairs are priced at between £45 and £60 per corner. The price depends on the size of your book and the extent of the damage.

Localised repairs on leather book bindings

If a leather binding is well-preserved but has minor damage I can sometimes make a localised repair. Examples of damage would be a slightly split hinge or a chipped headcap.

This process is only possible on certain types of binding. When it is practicable, it offers an aesthetic solution for an otherwise sound binding that has sustained slight damage.

The top of this book’s front hinge was split. A neat repair was made to patch the split.

Get a quote for a repair to a leather-bound book