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.
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.
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.