The Care and Feeding of Leather Bibles

Q. What's the best way to care for a leather-bound Bible? 

A. The conventional answer is to use it, the theory being that oils from your hands will keep the leather supple as the Bible ages. This theory has the dual advantage of sounding pious and requiring no additional effort on the part of the reader. That's been my own approach, and it seems to work. I don't apply leather care products or observe any special care regimens, and so far none of my Bibles appears to have suffered from the neglect. 

Having said that, I've heard from readers who've gotten good results using a variety of leather products — sometimes to preserve the cover, sometimes to improve it. If you use the Google search in the sidebar, you can hunt up some of the recommendations. Better yet, I'd like to invite readers who've used leather treatments successfully to post about them here. If you do, please include a link to where the product can be obtained, if you have one.

A word to the unrealistic: no elixir is likely to transform bad, cheap leather into a luxuriant pleasure for eye and hand. The money you could spend in chasing that chimera would be better invested in a quality cover! 

42 Comments on “The Care and Feeding of Leather Bibles

  1. I posted this after one of your other reviews. SicPress.com sells bookbinding and repair supplies. They offer several leather conditioning products, one of which is a leather conditioner made of neatsfoot oil and lanolin (60/40). If you have a bible (or any leather book) that is dried out, I would recomend this product as it was developed by the New York Public Library. There are also many videos demonstrating their products.

  2. I had good luck with lexol on an old bible.
    I have a bible my Dad bought for my Mom for Christmas in 1953, a Collins Cleartype. The leather cover was getting dry and the yapp edges mishapen. I gently rubbed in two light coats of Lexol then wrapped the bible in heavy paper bands just they way a new Allans arrives and let it sit in my book press overnight. Now it looks like a new edition. The leather feels more rich since some oils have been restored and the yapp edges lay just as new. The deep black color is back and it is more supple, maybe halfway between a Highland Goatskin and a mid-grade Goatskin.
    It feels good to pick it up and read the dedication from my Dad to my Mom each time.
    Tony

  3. I have personally used Doc Martens brand “Wonder Balsam” that I bought along with a pair of Docs. It says it conditions most kinds of leathers, and it did an awesome job on an ESV cordovan calfskin leather and a NKJV I had rebound in calfskin. It made the color a much richer, somewhat darker brown on both. It has also improved the leather on some other black goatskin Bibles I’ve had. However, I wouldn’t recommend using it on the black matte calfskin on the ESV’s and the Nelson Signature Series bibles – it made that leather seem very rubbery and almost unnatural. Other leathers are fine with it though.

  4. After learning of the common sense suggestion of simply using the Bible to let the natural oils from your hand absorb into the leather (massaging the cover) I figured why not take that thought a step further. So (and I know that this may sound a little strange to some) I’ve started to wipe my leather bindings accross my forehead & face transferring the natural oils that build up there onto the leather & then quickly massage the oil in – works a treat :)
    There’s no reason why you couldn’t use other parts of your body, but the oiliest parts seem to be the forehead, face, neck (front & back) & chest — so why settle for the just the hands?

  5. LOL! Now I KNOW I am not “crazy” after reading Stuart’s comment. LOL!

  6. “There’s no reason why you couldn’t use other parts of your body, but the oiliest parts seem to be the forehead, face, neck (front & back) & chest — so why settle for the just the hands?”
    This is hilarious. LOL
    I don’t even know how to respond to that.
    God Bless,
    David

  7. “I don’t even know how to respond to that.”
    David – I think “LOL” IS the appropriate response – glad I put a smile on your face! ;)

  8. Let me clarify my earlier statement *ahem* I LOL cuz I did it a couple of time myself with my “forehead oil”…
    Stuart, u make my day.
    LOL!!!

  9. Ohhh Ben – God Bless you mate!! Now that’s even funnier! So I’M not the only “crazy” one either (though my wife shot a few strange looks my way when she caught me doing it one day & I fumbled out an explanation). You just made me laugh so hard Ben! Thank you :)
    Well, let me clarify my statement too: 10-15yrs ago to help pay my way through teachers college I had a hobby turned business – carving & selling luxury bone & paua shell pendants (carvings) in my own organic styles (I.e. without any pagan or spiritual symbolism). A really good bone carving turns yellowish and translucant-like allowing you to see right into the bone & even the 3D fracture lines etc; this occurs from years of treasured use hanging around the wearers ‘sweaty’ neck where it continually rubs against the natural oils as they exit the pores in the chest on a daily basis. My carvings turned yellow quickly & that’s where I got the idea from to rub “it” on my forehead after reading that the natural oils from your hand condition the leather bindings —- “forehead oil” as you put it is the best, LOL!!
    And I’ll bet there’ll be a few more out there who won’t be able to quietly resist the urge to test their “forehead oil” out on their ‘highland goatskin’ when no-ones looking, I know you’ll give it a go – just don’t tell anyone, they’ll think you’re nuts!!!! Funnily enough, if it was sold under a sophisicated name in a pretty bottle for a pretty price and had a pretty blurb that dribbled on about the benefits to enhancing the longevity of you exquisite Bible bindings poeple in their ignorance wouldn’t think twice about it!?!? So, get over it & give it a try – “Forehead Oil” will do wonders for your Bible! :)

  10. I WAS eating a minute ago…now I lost my appetite thinking about stuart rubbing a bible on his oily forehead. you guys are funny…think I need to go wash my face now.

  11. Bodily secretions aside, I’ve always just used neutral Kiwi shoe polish in a can and a clean white cloth to rub it into the leather and to buff it off.

  12. Bodily secretions aside, I’ve always just used neutral Kiwi shoe polish in a can and a clean white cloth to rub it into the leather and to buff it off.

  13. I’m gonna admit, I’ve done the forehead and nose oil thing on my NJKV Pitt Mininon. Call me nuts, but the oil glands in the face are probably the same as anywhere else (and more productive). Guilty!

  14. This is the stuff you need:
    http://www.shopbrodart.com/shop/cb/product.aspx?pgid=497
    I first learned of it through an antiquarian book seller some years ago. When I was taking care of a large personal library I used it on leather bindings that were 150-200 years old. It brought those old covers to life again. Yes, if you regularly handle your leather bound books it will keep them oiled up. However, many of us have books that don’t receive frequent enough use for that, or one might purchase an older book that needs some revitalization.

  15. It is reassuring to know I’m not the only one who does the forehead thing.

  16. You folks who rub your Bibles all over your bodies are weird. ;-)
    God bless,
    David

  17. I too am guilty of doing the forehead wipe on the Bible. LOL I use several different leather conditioners on my Bibles.
    Doc Bailey’s Leather Tonic- Great on my Harley Davidson leather jackets and Bibles.
    Armor All leather care Gel- makes the leather soft after several applications but it will be slippery. LOL
    Meguiar’s Gold Class cleaner/conditioner- also works great, no residue left, buffs to a nice shine.
    I clean/condition all my Bibles every couple of months. This probably cuts down on the length of time it takes them to soften up.
    I also do the Bertrand Bible Yoga on my better leather Bibles to loosten them up faster.

  18. I have to say I’m guilty also of the ‘face lube’ also which I do daily, but what works great also is Lansinoh (used by breast feeding mothers) which is pure lanolin. Problem is its greasy so its a multi-step approach. I apply it, warm it up with a hair dryer so it absorbs, then wipe it down to get the excess off.

  19. Beware of conditioners that have synthetics in them; never use a conditioner that has alcohol or silicone in it. Alot of these so called leather conditioners have this garbage in them.

  20. Well, the advice of only using the natural moisture from your hand in daily use is a good one.
    But the thing is that most people here have such huge stack of bibles so there is no way to give them a treatment by regular daily use

  21. We all love to have leather. Leather shoes and boots, leather jacket, leather furniture, leather bags, and leather belts, etc. And I must say that leather rules our style. But the hard thing is, it is hard to maintain. In Toronto, leather repairs are a must need. Because of their possession of leather furniture in Toronto, repair and maintenance should always be at hand. Leather and vinyl repair in Toronto could be a time consuming task to do, that’s why most of people in Canada seek help from a reliable furniture repair company there. But be careful to whom you will trust your things, especially your car leather upholstery repair—for your thing’s safety.

  22. I have to say it is good to see Stuart’s post on here admitting the forehead and face treatment! LOL! I now know that I also am not crazy! Should we seek professional help for such a thing? I think not. My wife has looked at me like “Why doesn’t he rub his face on me like that!?” My wife thinks I am crazy (which I am) but I am not ashamed! The truth is, she just calls me crazy because she is jealous. :)
    http://www.reigningimmortal.com

  23. I just couldn’t resist and didn’t think of it until after my last post… so I apologize BUT we should call it the “anointing” from now on. That way we can keep some people from getting sick. I think I will tell my wife that I am anointing my bible the next time she catches me doing it. Hey, it makes for a fine cologne (highland goatskin) :)

  24. It gives me a sense of security to know there are folks “out there” to whom I can relate. I’m an old 61 year old grandmaw…..no more oil anywhere. Guess I’ll check out the old lunchbox I keep the shoe polish in. sandy d.

  25. I am looking for a product called “Treat your Bible” it was a small sponge that came in a pouch that had fine leather conditioner in it that you used one time and threw it away. I had a Bible cover that I layed on a coat rack and when I picked it up the Bible cover had three lines on it until I used “Treat your Bible”. Granted that was “pleather” but it did a wonder on leather Bible
    covers. I have been in various parts of the country and have looked in bookstores in those areas and have only found it in one place BaYouCa (Baptist Youth Camp) in Smithville Flats NY is the only place that I have seen it.

  26. @Jim, FWIW I agree with Lou above. I think just about any leather care product for car seats from your neighborhood car parts store will probably work just as well as the product you’ve used. If you really want to work at rubbing it in, Kiwi Mink Oil in the round black can, available at shoe stores, seems to me to work great. However if it’s truly a 100% plastic pleather (as opposed to leather or bonded leather) you probably want plain old Armor-all.
    This is all assuming your leather is fairly new and not in dismal shape. If you’re treating a 200-year old volume that’s been an attic for 100 years, you probably want to go to some of the conservation sites (e.g. talasonline.com) and get just pure lanolin and neatsfoot oil. All these other products include some small portion of wax which leave the surface nice but inhibit the stuff fully soaking in. This is a pretty good article on the hardcore stuff:
    http://cool.conservation-us.org/byorg/abbey/an/an05/an05-2/an05-206.html

  27. I have a new ESV black “genuine” leather Bible by Crossway. After reading all these posts, it would seem that Lexol Leather Conditioner or Neatsfoot oil-Lanolin 60/40 may be best to soften the leather. Can someone comment what would be best from their experience?

  28. I think a product like Lexol will be just fine for a new Bible. If it were really old and dried out, the 60-40 mix you mentioned would be appropriate but I don’t think that’s warranted. But stick with the Lexol dressing or preservative; I think the Lexol cleaner is harsher than what you want.

  29. I have my dads’ 1934 Thompson Chain Bible that he used for at least 1 hour a day for 70 years. All the gold is worn off from his hands but the leather is still in tact and very flexible.
    Having said that, today I received a 1934 Thompson Alaska sealskin and applied 2 coats of Lexol conditioner. I am thinking of waiting til tomorrow and apply a coat of Renaissance wax polish developed for museums’. If I am going in the wrong direction please let me know NOW.

    • Please let me know what you found out for the 1934 Alaska Seal bound Thompsons.

  30. *****
    I just got a Top Grain Cowhide Bible and gave it the “anointed” forehead treatment (inside AND outside of the covers) and it worked like a charm! And this was even BEFORE I saw this post. My Bible is shiny, flexible, and “alive”-looking, better than new. After all, what is more “NATURAL” than the oil God gave us to keep our own skin fresh and flexible? (And why let all that good, natural forehead oil go to waste? Some folks pay good money for facial creams that are not half as good!) When you think about it, some older folks with dry skin (very little if any natural skin oils) tend to look rather dry, “leathery,” and parched, don’t they?
    My only concern is, will it, over time, tend to become rancid or bad smelling like it needs a bath or deodorant. Like, if we never washed our faces wouldn’t the oils in our skin tend build up and clog up our pores etc.? (But as I mull it over, I don’t think our Bibles would develop a case of teen-aged acne, would they?) Plus, I don’t see any harm in having our own DNA impregnated in our own Bibles. (Smiles.) Just a thought.
    In the meantime, I think I’ll “anoint” my Bible in this manner every few weeks. It’s FREE and it WORKS. (Just do it in the privacy of your prayer closet and you won’t have to explain it to a soul! :^)
    lwc
    *****

  31. This line of thought is really cool. I have very oily skin and it would feel great to have a reason to use the natural oils. The only problem is I am a female that wears makeup – I would have to do the “anointing” in the morning before “painting the barn”. LOL

  32. please sir
    i am really in need of a bible. p.ease consider me and send me one through the address bellow:
    segbenu Gordon
    jaf school
    p.o.box 642
    ashaiman
    Ghana
    west africa

  33. segbenu Gordon: Send me an e-mail at ballshawn74@gmail.com and let me know what your preferance is for a bible. (black, brown, KJV, NKJV, NASV, etc.) I would be more than happy to send you a Bible.

  34. Segbenu Gordon, its on its way man. The shipping said 2 to 4 weeks but its on its way.

    • You are so cool. To send a bible to that man in Africa when he expressed a need and asked for help. I read his comment, checked the date and thought, “oh I hope it’s not too late for me to get him one,” and THE next comment was your response and then your message that it’s on it’s way! I love you. Have a happy day,

  35. well, i just recently purchased a calfskin leather bible, and was looking to find out the best way to care for it…good to know that the oils on my hands are NOT harming it lol….i think i’ll just stick that :)

  36. Trying Olive Oil, just received an Allans ESV3 Buffalo goatskin classic reference.
    Really want to limp it up somewhat. I see Pastors with bibles that just kind of flop in their hands. That’s what I’m aiming for with my bibles (I have a large collection, ranging from gift and awards to Allan’s and ministers bibles). I love my collection, But I’m still only in Jeremiah, it seems as I’m reading I go from one translation to another. I’ve read part of the bible in ESV, NASB, NIV and HCSB. I also do bible study with literal translation like EBR and my Greens interlinear. Still, I am actually in love with my new Allan bible, will probably end up getting a more expensive one in the future as well.

  37. If you forget to shower for several days your hair can be an excellent revitalizer for your Bible cover as well.

  38. I read all the suggestions for a preservative, but it seems everyone is speaking about the soft covers. I have a huge Bible that is over a 100 years old with a leather cover in wine color and gold. There are many embossed scenes from Jesus’ life depicted on the front and back. I believe there is some sort of finish on the leather as it is shiny. It is in excellent condition. I purchased it in Europe in the late 60′s, and sadly, it doesn’t seem to have had much use. It is also filled with gorgeous lithographs beginning with God’s creation of the world. It has beautiful silver clasps. Is there a product that is better for this type of leather? Thank you, Jacqueline

  39. I’ve used Lexol on a few Bibles recently. I only used the cleaner on two Bibles that were old and had lots of dust settled in. I used the conditioner on those two Bibles plus a few others that I did not need cleaning but the leather was dry. When I used Lexol productions, cleaner + conditioner or just the conditioner, it turned my rags the colored of the Bible. In other words, it was removing some of the die off the cover. Do you guys see a problem in this? Leonard’s recommends applying Lexol conditioner once or twice a year, sparingly, to Bibles that sit in storage and do not get any use. I’m wondering if doing this doing this even once a year or every other year will eventually pull out so much die that the Bible starts to look horrible.

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