Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Family Bible Restoration

It's been over a year since my last post, but I haven't forgotten about my blog; I've just been too busy to pay attention to anything other than what's on my work bench. (I'm horrible at multi-tasking ..)

The reason I decided to write this time is to remind folks, who are planing to get their Family Bible restored, of the importance of choosing the competent/experienced real restorer. There seem to be too many people who call themselves "bookbinders", with only a brief knowledge of binding books that they obtained from watching Youtube videos, attempting to "restore" books for profit, or binders whose binderies have been in business for decades, actually don't know what they are doing. Quite a few of such previously "restored" (or should I say professionally damaged..) books have come to us for re-restoration. 

Every book comes to us is priceless and irreplaceable, but when it comes to restoring Family Bibles, I always find myself feeling especially honored to be a part of their families' history of the past and future; I know Family Bibles are one thing that will be actually loved and cherished by many, for years to come. That is why restoration of  Family Bibles has to be done right, the first time.

A few months ago, this Bible came to me. According to the client, it was restored not too long ago, but as it was exposed to humidity, it became a bit moldy. She wanted us to do something about it.

Well, as you see on the before pictures, the problem is NOT really the mold. It certainly needs more than replacing the moldy endpapers and gluing back the spine. EVERYTHING the previous "binder" did was wrong, or should I say criminal. I was absolutely horrified when I saw the Bible. As an unspoken rule of being in a field of age-old craft like bookbinding, we don't really want to criticize fellow craftsmans' jobs; we just look away, keep our mouths shut, and  mind our own business. Though I have warned people of incompetent binders' existence before, I normally don't actually show an example of bad restoration and say "This is bad". But I couldn't help it this time.

I don't think I need to point out what's wrong with the Bible because pictures show it. Again, all I can say is EVERYTHING this "binder" did was outrageously wrong. There's no indication of his/her having any knowledge what so ever of how to bind a book, let alone restore one. One thing you might not be able to see on the pictures is that the leather this binder used is not pared. Leather paring is the most basic skill any binders must have, by the way.

Anyway, when you are thinking of restoring your Family Bible (or whatever books), do check the binder's works on the website first. And if you like what you see,  preferably visit him/her to actually see/touch the works in person, because digital pictures can be deceiving nowadays.

This is Holy Bible, Dr. William Smith's Standard Bible Dictionary, published by Henry L. Warren & Co., 1881-1884


  1. Good to see you back here! Tremendous work as always. As a non-professional, but with a couple of decades of bookbinding experience and study, I feel a slight twinge of guilt reading your comments, wondering how a "real" bookbinder would view my work. Much of what I do is repairing, not family Bibles, but falling-apart personal Bibles, the object being to make them strong and usable again. They almost always get a new leather cover, along with repairing loose pages and sections, fixing tears, etc. While I'm always conscious of, and have used various traditional techniques, I often have to employ some ingenuity and expediency, and find myself asking, "How would MHR handle THIS?!" Alas, you're not around to ask...

    Not that I'm making excuses for the poor work previously done on this family Bible. I DO pare the turn-ins (however, with a homemade Scharffix-like parer and a replaceable-blade skiving knife, followed by titling, not with gold leaf and hand-held tools, but foil-stamped with an old tabletop KwikPrint machine -- see what I mean?).

    I do have a couple of questions, if you're willing:

    1) In the "before" pictures, it appears that there are a few loose pages. If that's what they are and not just inserted things falling out, did re-inserting them involve sewing? If so, I'll have another question later!

    2) Blending old and new leather: I imagine it involves much careful paring of edges, but then do you color the edges and apply some sort of finish overall? I've often marveled at how well you do this.

    1. Hi Todd,

      I restore books with great monetary as well as sentimental values, but out of all books I handle, I love restoring personal Bibles because I know they are the closest friends one can have and will be cherished by the owner everyday till he parts. It's an honorable task to fix someone's personal Bible even if it just needs a cover replaced. Make sure to iron every page which corners are creased/folded, though. Also, I often add new blank pages at the end of the Bible, so that the owner can write notes. As long as you treat them with the greatest consideration and respect as if you are handling a book worth thousand of dollars, you are fine. ;-)

      I think it's better to answer your questions via email. E-mail me at your leisure.

  2. Thanks, MHR, I will email you soon. Yes, it's extremely satisfying to bring a well-worn, note-filled Bible back to life. The fact that it's beat-up and falling apart is proof enough of the use it's gotten and the value it has to its owner.

    And yes, I always straighten out all those folded-over page corners :-)