How’s that for a title?
As a wise man once said, there’s nothing new under the sun. Bible Design Blog has inspired a number of people to post reviews of Bibles, and my “yoga” pose (in which I roll up fine leather covers in ways that make the purists cringe) has been widely imitated. Turns out, though, the idea isn’t original to me. Chris Scotti has been in Christian publishing for years, and he recalls something similar being done in training seminars back in the 1980s:
In the old days in Christian retail (1980s) Cambridge used to have Bible sales training seminars and the easiest way to get a customer to spend the extra $20-$50 was to roll up the berkshire cover and let it unroll itself. Something you could never do with a bonded leather. They also used to give sales clerks an incentive of 1 free Bible of your choice when you sold 10.
Ah, the good old days, when trained and knowledgeable retailers stocked quality Bibles that you could walk in and touch. I don’t know which one I miss more: the bricks and mortar shops, or the mere $20-$50 premium.
The R. L. Allan New Classic Readers Commemorative Edition ESV features one of the most beautiful bindings I have seen from the Allan shop, a natural grain antique mahogany goatskin whose exquisite color variation is highlighted in these photos courtesy of Jesus Saenz. The edition was limited to 150 copies. Enjoy the photos … and if you have one of these, let us know what you think. — JMB
A lot of Bible Design Blog readers are interested in bookbinding. Most want someone else to do the work, but occasionally we catch the DIY bug. Paul Allen has an undergraduate degree in studio art and graphic design, so perhaps it was inevitable that, once exposed to Bible Design Blog, he would turn his hand to bookbinding. When I saw the photos of his first attempt, I asked if I could share them. Frankly, I’m impressed, and I think you will be, too. I can’t wait to see what Paul does with a little more experience under his belt. In the meantime, enjoy the photos, and Paul’s description of the process. — JMB
I used a pretty thick goatskin hide to do the rebind. I used two layers of goatskin with a piece of fabric in between, so it’s pretty soft, thick and flexible––not as flexible as my Allan ESV Reader, but more than my NKJV Schuyler. I watched several videos on YouTube and learned from a few Bibles that I carefully took apart. Also, I had recently done one practice rebind (see below). I didn’t get any special tools other than some leather glue that I picked up at Hobby Lobby and one of those see-through rulers to help me with measurements. I already had a few good X-Acto knives.
From there I just kind of created my own approach. I couldn’t find any one video that showed me everything I needed to know, but thankfully a little experimentation here and there paid off. Corners were the hardest part. I found a simple way to practice:
All in all, I’m thrilled with this rebind and this Bible is “priceless” to me. Reading it is a whole new experience for me.
Aesthetically, one of my favorite accidental improvements is how the ribbon naturally fades (due to age) from red to gold, and almost matches the new cover:
As pleased as I am with this rebind, I already see many ways to improve. I have a nice, old Oxford KJV Long Primer (printer: Humphrey Milford) that I’ll be tackling next, and I have a really nice red goatskin hide that I’m debating using. I may save the red hide for a more personal rebind: my mom has given me her “The Believer’s Study Bible” NKJV to rebind for Christmas. I’m getting backed up already!
One thing that I’m struggling to learn is the “gold leafing” process. I’m trying to find a simple way to place gold lettering on leather. I’ve had a little success, but I’m hoping to find more info on this soon.
Here are some photos of my first “practice rebind” from October (2013):
This was an 1987 One Year Bible (NIV) by Tyndale with a worn out burgundy bonded leather cover. I used a very soft goatskin hide that I purchased on eBay. I hadn’t practiced doing corners yet, so it’s definitely unique. I learned a lot from this first attempt, and didn’t pressure myself to be too exacting.
J. Mark Bertrand
Next week the offices of R. L. Allan will be up and running in the new London digs. To mark the occasion, Ian Metcalfe shares a few words with Bible Design Blog readers about the transition, his own experiences in Bible publishing, and the next generation. — JMB
It is an immense privilege to be taking over the fine Bibles publishing business R.L. Allan from my uncle Nicholas Gray. It was my great-grandfather, John Gray, who first dealt with R.L. Allan––licensing hymnbook rights from them for the family publishing business, Pickering & Inglis. Then in the 1960s my grandfather, Andrew Gray, bought the company itself when he was at the helm of P&I’s in his turn.
Andrew Gray commanded considerable respect within Plymouth Brethren circles in Glasgow and beyond––I certainly remember hearing the great publishing stories when visiting Glasgow as a young child in the 1970s. The 1980s were a more tumultuous time for the business, but when I landed at HarperCollins in the mid-90s I was proud to have the opportunity to work on books that had been acquired by him 30 years before, perhaps most notably Joni Eareckson Tada’s memoir, which was still a bestseller.
I cut my teeth in the Production Department at HarperCollins Religious, as it was then, quickly getting to grips with the challenges of producing quality Bibles and Liturgical products. Moving on to Editorial, I took overall responsibility for the Bibles list just as we launched the ESV Anglicised in the UK back in 2002, as well as overseeing the publishing of the King James Version, New Revised Standard Version, Good News Bible (a bestseller in the UK, especially for schools), J.B. Phillips New Testament and Contemporary English Version.
This experience stood me in good stead for the move to Hodder & Stoughton, where the NIV was in great need of reinvigoration. With new ultra-readable typesettings, and now a revised text that reflects much more accurately the original writers’ intentions, we now have the UK’s widest range of Bibles, all created with a clarity of purpose to help people engage with the Bible more effectively.
Dominique and I are delighted to have the opportunity of taking R.L. Allan on into this new chapter in its 150th year, as its own list of translations burgeons. Our aim is to build on its fine tradition of beautiful, handcrafted Bibles and to remain focused on offering the highest possible levels of personal service to our loyal customers.
We are thrilled to be continuing the family tradition of Bible publishing into the fourth generation.
– Ian MetcalfeR L Allan & Son Publishers Ltd Unit 3, Thorogood House Tolworth Close
This week a reader e-mailed me to ask whether his Bible, which is only published in a glued volume, could be be turned into a sewn binding. His complain about the glued binding was that it wouldn’t open flat, so he was hoping the problem could be solved by having the pages sewn together. This question comes up from time to time, and I’m afraid the answer is no. You cannot sew the pages of a glued binding together. (Well, you can, but as you’ll see, you won’t be happy with the result.)
A sewn binding is made up of a series of folded booklets called “signatures.” Here’s an example:
This is a book block I printed, folded, and sewed together by hand. As you can see, the spine isn’t lined up to well, which is why I had it handy in the workshop: this example was a reject from a project I worked on a couple of years ago. If you count the individual signatures, you’ll see there are twelve. Every book you own which happens to Smyth-sewn is made the same way — except that yours are neater, because they weren’t made by my unskilled hand.
Here’s what an individual signature looks like:
It’s pretty simple, right? You can create one yourself by take a few sheets of copy paper and folding them in half. Each sheet now equals four pages: the outside front, two inside pages, and an outside rear. Again, if you pulled apart a sewn book, you would find that the basic building block looks more or less like this. In order to sew the signatures together, you punch holes in the spine, like so:
This sample is a piece of scrap in the workshop, so I only punched one hole through the spine. Depending on the sewing pattern, a real signature might have three holes, six holes, or whatever. The threaded needle will run back and forth, attaching the loose sheets together, and it will also connect this signature to the next.
The reason you can’t convert a glued Bible into a sewn one is that, when a glued Bible is prepped for binding, the spine is sliced off. After all, if you applied glue to the spines as-is, the inner sheets of the signature would simply fall out of the book. To get good adherence on every page, you need to be able to apply glue to each one. So a signature ready for glue might look something like this:
As you can see, there’s nothing to push a needle through anymore, which means remedial sewing isn’t an option. ”Wait a second, Mark! I asked a bookbinder if my glued binding could be sewn, and he said yes.” Technically, he’s right. You could do something like this:
The thing is, since there’s no spine to run the thread through, he can only sewn the pages by poking through the sides, the way a stapler does. There are a couple of problems with this solution. First, the book wasn’t designed with this use in mind, so it probably won’t have the generous inner margins necessary to sewn the pages without obscuring the printed text. Second, the book won’t open flat any more than a stapled book would. If you ask me, it isn’t worth it, which is why a lot of bookbinders, while acknowledging the job can be done, won’t do it.
Some publishers offer nothing but glued bindings. My advice? Don’t buy their products. Slowly but surely, the Bible publishing industry is waking up to the fact that sewn bindings are a necessity.
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