Category Archives: Bibles

A Bookbinder’s Guide to Bible-Buying

Posting this here may seem like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted – after all, many of the people who visit this site do so because their Bibles are in various states of disrepair. But, having seen some of the Bibles that have come for repair recently, I have been thinking that it may be worth giving some advice on things to consider when buying a new Bible. Although it may appear that bookbinders can work miracles in making an old book look like new, there are some things that even we can’t make right.

Whatever Else You Do, Buy a Sewn Bible
This is really the most important point. From a binding perspective, there are two basic categories of mass-produced contemporary books, the glued and the sewn. Glued books consist of single pages that are glued together along the spine. (This is also known as perfect binding). They are only held together by glue, albeit a very strong hot glue. But when they come apart, while one can re-glue individual pages, re-gluing the whole Bible is not going to produce a satisfactory result – partly because one is unlikely to have much margin to work with, and partly because the cold glue that most bookbinders work with today is not as strong as the original hot glue that was used in the factory.

This is a clear example of what a sewn book looks like, although the signatures are sometimes finer and less clear.

This is a clear example of what a sewn book looks like, although the signatures are sometimes finer and less clear.

Sewn books, on the other hand, are held together by both stitching and glue. They are printed in such a way that the book consists of a series of booklets called signatures. Each signature is folded over and is usually stitched through the fold. (This is sometimes called Smyth sewn). If you look at the top or bottom of the Bible, you should be able to see if it is made up of signatures (which vary in thickness) that indicate that it is sewn. (Leonard’s Books has some more advice on this here).

I cannot over-emphasise the importance of buying a stitched Bible rather than a glued one. Not only are stitched books far more durable that glued ones, but they also open far better and can lie flat, something that a glued book will not easily do. A glued book is all very well for a thesis or a whodunit that is not likely to be read again, but is totally unsuitable for a book that will be constantly re-read and cherished.

Bonded Leather is Not Leather
I have been horrified to see the prices that are asked for Bibles bound in bonded leather. It needs to be stated very clearly that bonded leather is not leather, but is rather recycled leather fibres that are held together by a substantial amount of a gluey substance. To call bonded leather leather is like calling chipboard wood – and using chipboard in place of wood is probably a better option than using bonded leather in place of leather, because wood does not need to be supple as leather does, and bonded leather is definitely not supple, nor does it last well.

The grey underside is a sure indication that this was bonded leather, despite the "Genuine Leather" stamp.

The grey underside is a sure indication that this was bonded leather, despite the “Genuine Leather” stamp.

Even more horrifying is the fact that it appears that some Bible manufacturers are passing bonded leather off as genuine leather. I recently had a Bible in for repair that I thought looked more like bonded leather than genuine leather, although it was stamped “Genuine Leather” on the back. I thought that I must be mistaken, but, when I opened it up, there was no mistaking the grey nylon underside of the bonded leather.

Consider Rebinding a New Bible
Instead of buying a glued Bible bound in bonded leather for a hefty price, you would be far better off buying a well-stitched book block with a cheap binding. Even a stitched paperback is preferable to a glued Bible, although a hard cover is preferable as it is likely to round more easily. You could then have it rebound in leather, either immediately, or when you can afford to do so. This option will also allow you to personalise the binding as you consider what sort of cover you want. While the leather available in this country is limited (and I don’t import leather as it would drive the prices up exponentially), it is nevertheless genuine leather, lasts well, and will protect your Bible for many years to come.

Some more flap-around Bibles

Here are some more small flap-around Bibles (well, New Testaments really) that I was asked to do. The red one has rather wild end pages, which are made from paste paper and bits of gold foil.

m1

 

m2

I’m now selling Bibles online!

b-all

I’ve added a new page to this site where I am selling hand crafted leather bound Bibles of various sorts. Over the past couple of years I have collected some Bibles and rebound them and am now offering them for sale here. Some of them are second-hand, of a lesser quality or have other minor imperfections, which explains some of the cheaper prices. Some are also Bibles I’ve used to experiment with and they give an idea of what is possible.

I hope to also add a page for hand-crafted journal type books before long.

Update: the page is down until further notice.

Another Bible, this time my own

mybible1

There is a saying to the effect that the shoemaker’s children are the poorest shod, and this may apply to a bookbinder’s books too. I had been meaning to rebind my own Bible (or one of them) for a couple of years now, but never found the time for it. But because I wanted to experiment with some gold foiling and blind foiling techniques, I finally made the time for it. I also went a bit wild with colouring the end pages, but it gives one an idea of what is possible!

mybible2

A flap-around Bible

I’ve recently had a client who had Bible with a flap-around cover that she wanted rebound. I’d never done anything like this before and found it a bit of a challenge. The original cover had had a press-stud that closed it, but I did not have the necessary equipment to insert a pres-stud. My initial thought was to use a magnet but I have not been able to find suitably strong magnets for use in binding. (If any other bookbinders read this and know of a source, please let me know!) Anyway, after doing a binding with elastic that I wasn’t terribly happy with, I got an idea from looking at photos online, and have developed this binding which I did as an experiment on an extra Bible.

bible flap 1

bible flap 2

As an aside, I have a number of Bibles (some new and some used) that I have started binding – partly to experiment with different techniques and partly to show what can be done – that I plan to make available for sale via this site. More details to follow soon…

A hand-written Bible

I recently had the unusual experience of binding a Bible that had been written out by hand. I was contacted by someone whose father had written out the whole Bible by hand over a period of a couple of years. His father is now deceased and he wanted to have the Bible nicely bound for the family to keep.

I regret that I have lost the “before” photo of this work. It came to me in large files and was written on ordinary lined A4 paper. Unfortunately (from a bookbinding perspective) there was not much by the way of margins, so I was not able to trim the book blocks of the 4 volumes that were produced. But the leather covers with a debossed Cross and ribs on the spine gave the volumes a pleasing finish.

p barn bib

 

p barn bib side

Some recent Bibles

I haven’t been very good about posting on here recently, partly because of business and the pressures of moving and partly because I’ve often forgotten to take photos of my work. I hope that things will get more organised in the future.

In the last few months I’ve repaired and recovered a number of soft-covered Bibles, something that I hadn’t done much of before but which there seems to be a demand for. Personally I’ve been more inclined to prefer Bibles bound in hard covers, so soft-cover leather binding has been a new experience for me. Here are a few that I remembered to take photos of.

Another family Bible restored

I have just restored another family Bible, this time a Swedish one. I’m afraid that I forgot to take photos of how it was before restoration – it was a case bound Bible (from the early twentieth century) with the book block basically intact except for a few tears to the paper. However, the cover was coming off and the spine was badly damaged. I gave it a new cover (quarter bound with leather and linen as the original had been) and reattached the leather from the spine and the linen from the front and back covers (which must have a name in English, but I can only think of the Dutch word!). I also gave it new end pages and headbands. Anyway, here is the final result:

Restoration of Family Bible

Here are some photos of my latest project, the restoration of a – rather huge – Dutch Statenbijbel. It was basically intact, except for a couple of loose signatures, but the cover was coming off and the leather was in quite bad condition. A number of the pages were also quite torn.

I mended the tears in the pages with Japanese paper and paste, reattached loose pages and signatures and gave the book block new end pages. Because the leather was very brittle, I gave the book a new leather spine and glued the remnants of the old spine onto the new leather. Here is the completed result.

Bibles

Ever since doing embossed covers on some bibles I repaired, I have been thinking of doing this on bibles to sell. The bibles on this post are bibles which I bought and rebound. The book blocks were all stitched, but I gave them new end papers and leather headbands and coloured the edges. I have a variety of other bibles in the pipeline – and the variations of translation, size, colour and cover design are endless – but I didn’t manage to finish them in time for the market, so I’m just posting these three for now. They were supposed to have lettering on the spine, but that is one of the technical hitches that I still have to resolve.