The holidays are coming. What do you get for the Bible design blogger who has everything? That's easy: Something that doesn't exist. How about a Bible that doesn't come with the kind of binding such a connoisseur would appreciate? A rebind, that's the answer. It started like this:
Here's the story. Awhile back, I got an e-mail from Margie at Leonard's Book Restoration. They're the folks who rebound my Deluxe Compact ESV in tan pigskin. Turns out they'd been experimenting with a new natural goatskin and wondered if I'd be interested in having something rebound. Naturally, I was—I just couldn't think of what. My first idea was to have a bonded leather Cambridge rebound. That was my second idea, too. Then I got an e-mail from Matt Morales, asking if I'd seen Zondervan's NIV Giant Print Compact Bible. He was having one rebound by Leonard's, and after checking it out I decided to do likewise.
The Giant Print Compact Bible measures 7.75 x 5.25, but it's a whopping 2 inches thick. That's because it's a single column text setting—and did I mention the Giant Print?
A little too giant, if you ask me. Plus the margins are tight and the inside gutter sucks the text in like a big black hole. And yet, the more time I spent with it, the more fun I had. Like most single column settings, this one falls into the "mostly right but significantly wrong" category. Unlike most, it's problems can be easily fixed with a little more spacing. More realistically, they can be ignored. A thick, single column volume with giant type ... sounds like a good reader. And it is.
The text block is nothing special. Printed in China, with enough ghosting to qualify as mildly haunted. But despite this (and despite the tight inner gutter) the Giant Print Compact Bible is actually quite readable. It just needed a new binding.
Leonard's rebound it in "medium brown genuine soft-tanned premium goatskin, extending the edges to about 3/8" past the page edges," with raised ribs on the spine. They also added three 3/8" ribbon markers in a variety of colors. (If I were styling this one, I'd go with gold ribbons, imitating that classic tan/gold combination I've seen Oxford and Cambridge do). The result isn't mostly right. It's entirely right. I'm impressed with the transformation.
When the subject of rebinding comes up, I always counsel realistic expectations. I know how it feels to pack off a bonded leather tragedy dreaming of a handcrafted masterpiece by return post, only to get a workmanlike craft project. Tearing off a cover and pasting on a new one isn't rocket science. Creating an aesthetically pleasing match with comparable fit and finish to a high end "production" edition requires something more. So I advise people to be reasonable. Your $20 glue-job isn't going to come back looking like a million bucks.
Maybe it's time to revise my patter. This $20 edition came back looking fantastic:
The attention to detail is excellent. Nice, thick ribbons ...
A spine that appears to be strongly reinforced ...
And incredible flexibility!
The photo above illustrates more than a limp cover—but let's take a moment to appreciate the limpness anyway. What you're looking at is the cover being peeled back from the text block. It's liquid. Another gripe BDB readers have had about rebinding is that the covers are stiffer than Cambridge or Allan's covers. This one isn't. Not even remotely.
Look at that corner, though. That's what really impressed me. Oftentimes you can spot a rebind by the inconsistency of the finishing. They tend to look like they were done by hand (though not in a good way). Here, the lines are clean and consistent. That's true of the entire cover, as you can see:
The dream of rebinding is that you end up with the text block of your choice and a clean, professional binding of your choice. Based on this and other examples I'm seeing, Leonard's is delivering. The natural goatskin they're using is really great. Yoga, anyone:
Thick and grainy, and the color is very rich. Combined with the raised bands, this edition is as beautiful as it is unrecognizable. How many people in the world can boast of having a beautifully bound, single column, large print, hand-sized Bible? (Other than Matt and now me.) This level of quality, and it's one of a kind.
Let's talk style. Since it's a limp, natural goatskin, the obvious comparison to make would be between this and R. L. Allan's highland goatskin. We'll get there, don't worry. The raised bands and the leather finish actually remind me of something else, though: the Abba bindings from the Nelson Signature glory days. Below, I've stacked an Abba binding (top), a Cambridge (middle) and the Leonard's (bottom). While the Cambridge has a little gloss and is more of the traditional Allan's style, you can see the Leonard's has some affinities with the Abba ... only it's executed (way) better.
I'm no expert on leather, but when I compare the natural goatskin here to highland goatskin (pictured below on the ESV Reader's Reference), the biggest difference seems to be the finish. They're about equally limp, but the highland has a bit of shine to it, suggesting some kind of finish, whereas the natural feels very porous. Highland has refinement, while natural has softness.
On the inside, the Allan's backing looks more upscale, and the gilt imprinting has a certain something. What impresses me most here, though, is to see how clean and finished the Leonard's cover looks, even next to the Allan's. This is superb work. What it suggests to me is that you can take a text block from pretty much anywhere and have it rebound to exacting standards—and isn't that the whole point of rebinding in the first place?
I suppose the only downside is putting a binding so nice on a text block so modest. Some people shudder at the thought of such a thing. Only I'm not one of them. In this case, Leonard's has transformed a text block I could admire but not really use into something that's a delight to read. You can always start with a more upscale text block if you like (though I'm not sure there's anything currently on the market as readable as this Giant Print Compact Bible, despite its flaws).
If you've been holding onto a treasured text, uncertain where to have it rebound, I think Leonard's is a great option. Based on this result, I'd feel confident in sending them anything.
According to Margie, the current turnaround time is about three weeks, so if you're looking to have something done for the holidays, act quickly. The cost for a rebind like this one would be in the $95-$105 range, depending on the options you select. Check the price list for color options, which include black, red, deep red, medium brown (pictured here), pearl, dark brown, and rustic chocolate. An NIV Giant Print Compact Bible, should you chose to go that route, will set you back about $16 from Amazon. Enjoy.