Poor Man's Geneva Bible - Rebound by Leonard's Book Restoration

A few months back, I received an e-mail from California Dave asking some questions about the Geneva Bible. He was on a quest, and the end result is a magnificently rebound facsimile edition. The starting point was a Hendrikson's reprint of the 1560 edition, which went to Leonard's Book Restoration for star treatment. The results are pretty stunning. So let's let Dave tell the story -- accompanied by photos. There's even a contribution from Eric Haley, who did the work at Leonard's, explaining the process. Dave's text is in red, and Eric in blue. Enjoy!


This past Thanksgiving (November 2008) I'd decided to do something a little different at our traditional family get together and so I researched the story of the Pilgrims, emphasizing their faith and why they came over to the New World. Summarizing the Pilgrim's story with my family was such a big hit that I've been asked to do it every year from now on. It was during my research of the story that I'd realized several of the Pilgrims were using the Geneva Bible as their personal Bible. Given the historical significance of the Geneva Study Bible, I wanted to acquire a good condition original Geneva Bible and looked far and wide into prices. The prices I found for a good quality were typically in the thousands of dollars, with nice quality editions often running into $20k and up. I realized I needed a more cost effective and justifiable approach to acquire a copy.  


This is when I learned of two readily available facsimile versions. One is the 1560 version, published by Hendrickson. The other is the 1599 version published by Tolle Press. Mark has previously posted reviews on the Tolle Press 1599 version. Tolle Press essentially has two types of the 1599 version. One is a facsimile copy of the original 1599 version, while the other is a modernized typeset with a more modernized translation from the original facsimile copy (sans wood cut pictures, etc.). I believe Mark's prior review covered the updated version. I personally wanted a copy that was as close to the original as possible, including the study notes and wonderful woodcut pictures. As far as content is concerned, it appears the primary difference between the 1560 and 1599 versions relate to some study notes in Revelation being updated by different contributers in the 1599 version. I was more interested in the historical significance of the 1560 version than I was the updates to the Revelation study notes.  Both Hendrickson and Tolle Press offer a leather bound version of their facsimile copy, but based on reviews I'd read I was not particularly impressed with any of them.  Besides, I wanted a binding that looked as period specific as possible. 


Iyov has previously posted an outstanding multi-part review of the Hendrickson 1560 version and I highly recommend it be read by anyone having an interest in the Geneva Bible. Iyov recommended the hardcover copy over the leather version because the paper quality was superior in the hardback version. Having had the opportunity to physically inspect both versions myself at our local Bible store, Iyov was dead on right.  The hardback version has a high quality sewn binding, and the paper is thicker with an opaque (almost baize) color. The leather version uses paper having onion skin qualities that I don't particularly care for and was not used in the 1500s. Through an email exchange with Mark, I'd discussed my findings and was considering making life simple by ordering the Renaissance Bible (1599 version) with the cool buckle and shedding liners that Mark has previously posted. Given the cost of that Renaissance Bible, Mark suggested I pick up a hardback copy and have it rebound in a nice goatskin. Mark, of course, was telling me exactly what I wanted to hear. Given my desire to have a Geneva Bible that looked as period specific as possible, I asked Mark for some suggestions on rebinding shops that could handle this type of project. I should also add here that I've never had a Bible rebound before, so it was somewhat of a foreign affair for me. Mark suggested Eric of Leonard's Books Restoration. I gave Eric a call, and after about an hour or more of talking together on the phone, I knew Eric was the right rebinder for me on this project. So I ordered the Hendrickson 1560 version in hardback through Amazon and had it directly shipped to Leonard's shop.


Before Eric and I could finalize my order, I had to be able to adequately explain what it was I wanted. After scouring the web for information, I soon realized original bindings on Bibles dated in the 1500s were for the most part nonexistent. All of the investment grade Geneva Bibles I could find were rebound, with most rebindings being done well within the past century. So I studied pics of investment grade Geneva Bibles that were listed at various auction houses, etc., and compiled several pics of bindings having qualities most appealing to me. I forwarded these pics to Eric, and they proved to be very helpful in clarifying the qualities/characteristics that I wanted. I don't know how I could have otherwise done this by just talking with Eric over the phone sans any pictures to illustrate what I was trying to communicate to him. Fortunately, Eric happens to be a real treasure in the rebinding industry because he has a passion for the period specific bindings and knows a great deal about what bindings consisted of in the earlier periods.


For my Poor Man's Geneva Bible project, I wanted it to be as period specific as possible, but still have a few modernized attributes which were important for me. I wanted raised bands, the curved look on the spine was critical, a simple design pattern, and labeling on the spine consistent with what printers would have done for the 1560 version at that period in time. Modern characteristics included three matching ribbons, and of course a top quality highland goatskin cover. (Note: My choice of ribbon colors was prior to Allan's release of the ESV with three ribbons of different color. In hindsight, I'd rather have gone with three different complimentary ribbon colors). I wanted the goatskin cover to have an antiqued mottled finish for period specific character. I know Bibles in the 1500s didn't get printed with highland goatskin and "liquidy limp" covers, so I compromised and had Eric pull the goatskin over the existing hardback covers. The hardback facsimile version is a Study Bible, plus it uses thicker paper, so it's a very thick Bible (thicker than the hardback version of the ESV Study Bible, as a comparison) that would be better served with a stiff cover.  Having now covered the primary qualities I was looking for, I gave Eric creative license on ideas for some other characteristics.  In hindsight, it was a great decision to trust Eric with some of his ideas. For example, the color and texture of paper used for the inside pages was his idea. The color and type of headbands, and the border design on the front and back cover were all at his discretion in that I never saw an example of what he had in mind until I saw it on my completed project.


I'd mentioned to Eric that I wanted to post a write up of my completed Geneva Bible project on Mark's website after I saw the finished product and so I asked Eric to forward me some comments specific to this rebind project. Below are his comments that I hope you find interesting and informative.

I've done several original 16th century Bibles over the past several years, but this is the first attempt at rebinding a new reprint of an old Bible, and turning it into something with a 16th century look.  In the past I've used calfskin to replicate the old bindings; in this case, we used goatskin at the owner's request because of his desire for more pronounced grain than natural calfskin offers.

The first challenge was to take this rather blockish Hendrickson Geneva 1560 Bible reprint and re-form the spine into a pronounced curve.  This required removing all of the glue, which being new, was no easy task.  We managed to get a good curve without breaking the sewing and then put on several layers of paper and glue to keep it in that position and build up the spine edge to better fit the boards.  We applied multi-colored headbands and ribbon markers and laid down a good quality mull.

The leather we used was a natural wild grain goatskin, on which we applied a mixture of dark brown and mahogany oil dyes and stains, to create the aged look.  The simple border design and raised bands, wrapping around the edges of the books gave an elegant yet simple look, appropriate for a Bible of this period.  Any Puritan would feel comfortable having it in his possession.  

The title label was made with sheepskin dyed red-burgundy and is darker than the pictures show.  The imprinting was done using copper instead of gold, again to keep the lettering subdued and giving it a more aged appearance.  In keeping with the practices of rare collections folks, we have imprinted the "Geneva 1560" directly onto the leather at the bottom edge.  

The choice for end pages was a chocolate Lokta paper that has its own leathery look.

I suppose in a way it's easier to work with the older copies than with the new.  The spine curving was no small issue, but I enjoyed the process.

~Eric J. Haley

Leonard's Book Restoration Station


I've never seen a period specific rebind such as this one posted on Mark's website before, so perhaps this is something a little different which interests Mark's readers.  The pictures honestly don't do justice to the binding. I've never seen a binding before that has this much character, given the mottled finish plus the detailed natural grain pattern of the goatskin. The cover's appearance actually changes with a change in lighting. Because of the mottled (multi-colored die) finish and highly detailed natural grain pattern, the cover has a three dimensional appearance to it. I've never seen anything like this before. The all-in cost for my Poor Man's Geneva Bible was right about $200, which includes shipping and the acquisition cost of the original hardback copy.  This is a working Bible for me in that I grab it off the library shelf and use it quite often.  The facsimile copy is very good and and the copy quality is even throughout. I found it didn't take long to adjust to reading the older style font and writing style. If you can read the KJV, you can read this, too.  A nice plus to this facsimile version is the +/-20 page Introduction To The Facsimile Edition. The article provides a great history of the Geneva Bible leading up to the original manuscript that was used for the Hendrickson's 1560 facsimile version. The history of the Geneva Bible is fascinating. For example, it was some of the comments made in the study notes of the 1560 version which aroused concern from King James and ultimately lead to the KJV 1611 "Authorized" version.  The Geneva Bible is an important part of our history here in the USA. Moreover, given I'm of Scottish descent, it was a plus when I'd uncovered during my period of research that the Geneva Bible was the official Bible used during the Reformation movement for Scotland as well. 


I am very satisfied with the outcome of my Poor Man's Geneva Bible in that I wanted a reasonably inexpensive "working" copy that looked period specific and would become a family heirloom. At about $200, I feel I received considerable value because I have a treasured piece of my heritage that is completely unique and truly one of a kind.  Although I've never used another rebinder to date, I'm very happy with Leonard's and I've already commissioned them for other rebinding projects.  For those of you who own or know anything about the binding quality problems of Zondervan's Life Application Study Bible, it screams for a quality rebind. I'm going to go with Leonard's Old West Sheepskin with a mottled finish on mine. Eric and Margie are going to significantly upgrade their website very soon, and it will include samples of skins, etc. They've also told me they are going to showcase my Geneva Bible on their updated website.  Eric took about six weeks to complete my Geneva Bible rebind and I was very happy with this turnaround time.  


I'd like to pass along a few comments I've learned in working through a couple of rebinding projects that may be helpful:

1.  Before you contact a rebinder, do your research so you have a very good idea of what you want. Pictures are invaluable for illustrating characteristics in a rebind project that you want to have done. Do not assume the rebinder can read your mind and understand what your desires. You must be specific.

2.  When you start contacting rebinders, share your pics with them and take the time to talk through exactly what you want so its clearly communicated. If a rebinder tries to cut you short on your conversation, move on to a different one.

3.  Ask the rebinder to email you pics which illustrate the tanned hide they are proposing to use (assuming they are not otherwise shown on their websites). No two hides are the same, especially if any color dies are going to be added. Grain patterns also differ significantly. Try to see what the hide looks like that will be used for your rebind project so you can inspect grain pattern, etc. for yourself.

4.  Do not expect perfection. As with Allan Bibles, rebind projects are done one at a time by hand and there will be imperfections. That is part of the beauty of a custom Bible and/or rebind. Each one is truly unique and one of a kind.

Eric and his wife Margie are a husband and wife team. Eric is a senior pastor at their local church and its my understanding they help finance their personal ministry (making ends meet) through revenues from their binding business. I find it compelling that the profits they realize from the business I send them helps sustain their personal finances so Eric can continue his ministry by pastoring at their local church.


Lastly, I owe much gratitude to Mark for his wonderful web blog on Bible binding and design. Mark's tireless and consistent efforts towards making the rest of us aware of the rebinding world, not to mention high quality Bibles such as those produced by Allans, are greatly appreciated.  Mark's web blog is the only site I'm aware of which covers rebinding projects and I've benefited greatly from the information Mark and other readers have posted to this web blog. I hope the information I've covered regarding my Poor Man's Geneva Bible is a helpful contribution for this blog community.

Mark Again:

I don't know about you, but seeing these photos has be looking over my bookshelf, trying to decide which volume could do with a little Poor Man's treatment. Thanks, Dave and Eric, for sharing this beautiful project with us all!