Last year I visited Leonard’s Book Restoration, where I met the Haleys, Eric and Margie, and their staff of dedicated bookbinders. At the time they were in the middle of a major construction project, expanding to accommodate the increasing demand for Bible rebinding. Not long ago, the majority of Bibles sent for rebinding were family heirlooms, books whose covers were worn out from years of use, their pages loose and needing to be re-sewn. Such projects still come in, but there’s been an big shift toward what you might call aesthetic rebinding, in which the owner sends in a perfectly intact (even new) Bible for an upgraded custom binding. That’s the kind of project that brought me to Leonard’s that day.
The base Bible was certainly in no need of repair -- or for that matter, upgrade. It was a new-in-box Cambridge Clarion ESV bound in limp black goatskin. Perfectly wonderful as is. However, I had decided long before that I wanted a nice single column ESV bound as a leather hardcover. After corresponding back and forth with Margie Haley to work out the specs, the project languished awhile. I knew what I wanted in terms of binding, I just didn’t know which Bible I wanted rebound. Then the Clarion came along and utterly charmed me. Since I was already planning to visit the Leonard’s workshop in person, I brought the Clarion along.
The specifications were simple enough. I wanted a hardcover bound in leather with raised bands and a contrasting color title label. To keep with the fine binding theme, I also decided to go with a marbled endpaper. Three thick gold ribbons were also added to make it easier to use this Bible with my preferred reading plan.
One decision I ended up backpedaling on was the color. Originally, I wanted a dark green goatskin cover. Ever since I read in Compton Mackenzie’s history of smoking that he once had a green monkey skin tobacco pouch, I’ve had an admittedly bizarre fixation with green leather. (I like monkeys, too, but with the skin still on.) A hand-rubbed finish with some light-dark variation would be nice, reminiscent of a verdigris patina.
In the shop, however, Eric showed me a book being rebound in a nice hand-rubbed dark brown English calf. It has the color depth I was looking for, but struck me as much less likely to trigger buyer’s remorse. So I played it safe and went with the dark brown leather, with a dark red label on the spine for the title.
The visit took place in June 2012, and by the time I returned home at the end of July the Bible had already arrived. Total cost was around $180. The result was everything I expected, pleasant not just to look at but also to use.
You can see from the photos how well the Clarion project turned out. The only negative I can come up with is the fabric headband. I prefer the more traditional threaded type.
Now why would a fan of limp bindings like me choose a hardcover binding? Two reasons, one aesthetic and the other practical. Before my interest in Bible design and binding, I was enamored with antiquarian books. There are now shelves of them in the house -- you catch the occasional glimpse in some of my photos here. Despite being surrounded by leather-bound hardcovers, it had simply never occurred to me that I could have a Bible bound that way. I saw a few examples of hardcover projects other people in the BDB community had done, and they inspired me.
On the practical level, even an ornate hardcover brims with durability. You don’t need to worry about how to store it. You don’t need to keep it in the box or in a slipcase. You just place it on the shelf like any other book (something I would never do with a softcover leather binding). I liked the idea of having a leather-bound Bible on the shelf ready to be pulled down for reference, or to take with me.