Skip to content

Early 19th Century grained leather bindings receive new spines.

Graining of leather was commonly done to hide the imperfections of second or third grade leather. And then it became style. These bindings on Gordon’s American Revolution, published in London by Charles Dilly in 1788 are examples of graining for style, since the original leather appear to come from clean skins. The boards are decorated with gold lines and a blind decorative roll, as well as some gilt on the edges of the boards. The boards have some damage but are worth keeping, and the spines were pretty once, but need to be replaced. To use sheep on new bindings today isn’t desirable because sheep is an inferior and weak leather. But Steven Siegel has developed a sheep leather suitable for binding. He says it is “100% vegetable tanned, fair, (natural) hair sheep. The type of hair sheep that I used is very difficult to obtain.  It has incredible strength at 0.4 mm.  “My idea”  was to provide a leather which could be used for sheepskin re-binds, but without the problems inherent with wool sheep”.

Original Late 18th Century straight grained leather binding, with tape removed. This is one of the better volumes, as some tape had darkened the edges of the boards extensively.

Once the leather is chosen,  in this case the hair sheep skin from Steven Siegel, it is dyed. I dye with a mixture of aniline dies, lightly at first and tweaking it until it is the color of the board edges, where the new leather is worked in. The leather took dye quite nicely, with slight variation in tone, which might be attributed to the leather or to my brushing technique. Either way, this is desirable because a completely uniformly dyed skin can look plastic and without life next to the aged boards into which the leather is worked in and with which it needs to be in harmony. While the leather is still damp it it pressed into the graining plate.

The upper leather is the un-dyed hair sheep, and the lower piece is a dyed portion.

Dyed and grained leather ready for paring and inserting into the boards. The leather took a grain well, in this case a straight grain.

Once dry, the leather is pared at the edges. A nice feature of this leather is that even after multiple dye applications, the leather is still soft enough to pare easily. This is a treat, since it is unusual, and since it makes paring quick. Another good thing about this leather is that it is thin enough for restoration work, and doesn’t require a lot of paring to get it to a thickness suitable to be worked using it as restoration material. After paring, the boards are prepared to receive the leather. Here I lift the leather and reinforce it, laying down the very edge of the leather where the tape damage occurs. The leather is inserted, pressed, headcaps turned and bound to the book. The spine is tied up so the leather stays put nicely along the bands. This particular leather was malleable and worked very nicely over the boards and at the same time retained the grain that was added. Very nice.

Detail of boards with extensive tape damage both to the leather and on the marbled endpapers.

The endpapers are marbled, and had been damaged by tape, so new inner hinges are inserted. But since the damage extended significantly onto the boards, it was necessary to fit matching paper into the hinges. A representative sheet from the endpapers is scanned and the color is tweaked and the paper is printed on hinge paper. This is torn into strips and worked into the binding at a point where the design is complimentary and fits visually with the marbled pattern.

New hinges to match the original endpapers.

The new spines with gold lettering and raised bands similar to original.

Gordon's American Revolution complete with lettering and gold lines, all hand tooled.

Categories: 18th Century, Grained leather, Rebacking, Respining, Restoration, Uncategorized.

Comment Feed

No Responses (yet)

You must be logged in to post a comment.