Leather Book Restoration and Repair

Leather book restoration requires thought and consideration of each project even before the work is begun. In general the purpose of restoration is to make a book once again useable in a fashion that honors and reflects its original construction and appearance. Taken into consideration is not just the book and its condition alone, but also its intended use and its historical importance. Will the book be preserved as an artifact, carefully shelved and handled only occasionally? Or will this be a volume that will be part of a working library and referred to often? In the first case, primary attention can be paid to appearance and fidelity to historical techniques. In the second case, a book that will be frequently handled may require an alternative, more robust construction that while not entirely historically accurate, will serve to extend its life while receiving greater use. Then there are those books, because of the their historic significance, should receive only minimal intervention, or perhaps none at all. In these cases, a protective enclosure such as a clam shell (or drop spine) box, a slipcase or portfolio would be an appropriate way to protect the volume from further deterioration.


leather book restoration, leather book repair

A late 16th century binding before restoration, showing the edges of the boards chipped and worn.

The edges of this 16th century binding are worn and chipped on all sides, In addition, about 40% of the spine was missing. Care must be taken in working on an early binding such as this to preserve all of the original material including the inner structure. Here the board edges were built up and recovered with a sympathetic leather toned to match. Likewise, the spine fragment was lifted, a new spine was made in the manner of the original and the old spine was laid back down.










leather binding restoration, leather binding repair

The binding after restoration.


leather book repair, leather book restoration

History of Herkimer County showing typical wear, with the joint broken, the spine detached and frayed.















leather binding repair, leather binding restoration

The restored volume.


















The History of Herkimer County illustrates a typical leather binding restoration. The loose spine was removed, the leather on the outside of the boards and the endsheets on the inside were all lifted along the spine edge. A new leather spine was made, toned to match the original and slipped under the raised leather. The original spine was laid down over it. On the inside, new inner hinges matching the original endpapers were sewn to the text block and likewise slipped under the lifted endpapers. All loose material was pasted back down and final coloring ensured that the repairs blend with the original materials.