Ever since running the Poor Man's Geneva Bible piece, I've been interested in seeing historically-inspired rebinding projects. After all, long before I started writing about Bible design and binding, antiquarian books and their beautiful bindings were an obsession of mine. Returning from my honeymoon, I lugged a suitcase full of old books back from Scotland. One of the highlights of a later trip to London was finding one of those decorator warehouses that sells old books by the foot to interior designers. Down in the basement, they let me hand-pick my foot of antiquarian titles. It was all the same to them, and I was in heaven.
So when I heard that Leonard's Book Restoration planned to introduce a line of bindings inspired by different epochs in Bible history, I was intrigued. Margie sent me this one to review, a sample of the softcover 17th Century Country Parson Style:
Here's the description from the Leonard's site:
"This unique Bible features dark brown hand-dyed spindled rustic goatskin, wrap-around, thick raised ribs on the spine, with blind-stamped double border tooling and tapered spine rib tooling. It is a softcover and is especially appealing to people who want a Bible that is very strong and durable. This is not wimpy-soft leather but is not stiff, either. The end pages are standard leatherette for strength when flexing."
For purists, there is also a more historically-correct hardcover version of the same binding. The cost of the work varies, depending on the size of the Bible you want to have rebound. In softcover, a Small Compact edition under 7" x 5" will run $92, a Medium Personal Size edition is $127, and a Large Study edition above 9" x 6" costs $142. If you opt for the hardcover, the prices are $112, $147, and $162, respectively.
The color variation in the hand-dyed brown leather is quite attractive, varying in intensity depending on the light. As the grain flows, there's a dapple of dark trenches and lighter ridges, beautiful to the eye. When you handle the volume, the raised bands add to the tactile pleasure.
While I tend to be something of a minimalist, I find the blind-stamped decoration on the edge of the cover extremely attractive. This is one instance where more is more. The grain, the color variation, and the ornamentation come off not as fancy but rugged. I'm put in mind not of lace and ruffs but clay pipes and fowling pieces.
The softccover option, a concession to our contemporary love of limp bindings, is executed well, as you'd expect from Eric Haley, whose love of books shines through in his handiwork. Frankly, if I were you, I'd opt for the hardcover. The fact you have a choice illustrates one of the things I appreciate about the Leonard's approach.
For a long time, my experience with rebinding operations was that they weren't very responsive to what their clientele really wanted. They used stiff boards under the covers, didn't offer many options, and seemed perturbed that you'd expect your rebound Bible to be limp and lovely. I got tired of dealing with it, and just started issuing a blanket "buyer beware" when it came to rebinding results.
Then Leonard's comes along -- or I should say, I found out about them; they'd been around for awhile -- and proves to be responsive, prompt, professional, and as much in love with the process (even more so) than we are. I can see them discussing the historical series of bindings now, knowing that no 17th century country parson was doing woodcuts of his new Bible with its covers curled up to share on his Bible design broadsheet, and that really, this ought to be a hardback. But we moderns are who we are ... so we have a choice.
The natural goatskin is thick and soft. In keeping with the age-marbled appearance of the brown leather, the cover has a comfortable, worn-in flex to it -- not limp, but not at all rigid. There are three thick ribbons -- dark brown, mid-brown, and ivory -- that add to the functionality. The color choices underscore how tastefully everything goes together in this binding.
Dappled brown covers like this always seem to photograph amazingly. Since this binding shows off Eric's traditional bookbinding chops, it wasn't long before I stuck it on the shelf to see how it would look among other nicely bound books. Pretty eye-catching, huh?
Seeing the range of work coming out of the Leonard's workshop the past couple of years, I've found myself thinking more and more outside the box when it comes to what my ideal rebinding project would look like. As I've examined this binding in particular, some interesting thoughts have crystalized. You know what I'd find really nice? One of the upcoming Cambridge Clarion ESVs bound in mottled British Racing Green calf or goat, with nice raised bands like this, in hardcover.
The beauty of a pre-selected line of bindings like this is that, for the undecided, it's simple to say, "I want that!" At the same time, seeing options you might not ordinarily go for (or even be aware of) also tends to inspire creativity. For those overwhelmed by the possibilities of custom binding, these choices provide some simplicity; for those who want to color way outside the lines, they offer inspiration.
In addition to the 16th Century Country Parson look, you can also try the 19th Century Circuit Rider, which offers a very period-looking tab closure, or the 20th Century Sunday School Teacher in black natural morocco with semi-yapp edges and silk moire end pages. All the options and ordering information is online here: Leonard's Historical Bible Series.
What do you think?