Restoring The Lord Wharton Bible

The Lord Wharton Bible Restoration Project

At the time this project was the most intensive bookbinding I had ever done. It may not look like much in the pictures but this book needed to be completely dis-bound, cleaned, archivally maintained, re-sewn, have new boards made, re-backed and glued, have the pages cut and smoothed- dyed and speckled, have new calf put on, have the images from the original put into a computer program so I could lift or recreate the exact elements from the stamping, have brass dies  electrochemically etched( by me) from the images, stamp the images into the calf using perhaps as many as five sample stampings per design, have replacement brass hasps made by hand to match the original, chemically etch the hasps with the family’s name, correct weaknesses in the original design so the same failures did not occur 2oo years from now, and finally place the hasps on the Bible. This took every bit of the binding skill I had except gold stamping, and allowed me to explore a few new ones like the acid etching. It was an amazing honor to preserve such a fine heirloom.

The Restored Lord Wharton Bible

The Hand Made Clasps for the Lord Wharton Bible

The Process

There are many steps to restoring a Family Bible. Knowing how to replace or restore leather, recreate stamping, re-sew bindings, and properly trim and safely preserve paper to avoid later browning are just a few key elements.  Because every book is in a different state of disrepair, and options for each work vary so much (type of leather, scope of work, preservation/restoration/or recreation) prices vary. One may have a Bible repaired for as little as $60.00 or need a complete restoration for $1,000.00…and of course there could be any price in between and higher. The only way to know if you should, and can, repair your Bible is to email or call. I will look at the binding, review value in current markets, explain what exactly needs to be done, and discuss options. The knowledge you gain from our emails or conversations will allow you to make an informed decision as to how to proceed.

Below is an example of a complete restoration using the same materials as the original whenever possible.  Archival methods were used to ensure the book remains for several hundred more years. Valuable family signatures and notations will be preserved for generations to come.

The leather on this Bible suffered from severe red rot.  To read more about red rot check out the Wikipedia entry The book had also suffered from broken hinges, broken stitching, wear to the page edges, missing clasps that took parts of the covers with them and several areas where plants were flattened which left marks.This project entailed the whole realm of archival preservation and restoration and is quite different from simply creating a book from boards paper and print. Red rot is a semi contagious dry rot in leather. I say semi contagious because some experts feel the gases emitted from the chemical breakdown in the leather will actually begin a like chemical decomposition in other leathers. After I took the book out of quarantine I immediate removed the leather covers and spine. I then had to move on to the arduous task of dis-binding. This entails meticulous glue removal, cutting out old thread, and doing as little damage to the signatures as possible. Once the many signatures are separated I had to then collate and look through them making sure no mold, foxing, tears, or other problems existed. I found quite a few flattened leaved in this particular book which is romantic but each one created a reddish brown stain where it was found. I collected them all and put them in an envelope which was returned to the client. If they want to put them back in (urgh) they can, but I will certainly tell them of the vices of storing anything but interest in one’s books. Once collated and stacked the outcome is an aged but otherwise clean text-block ready for sewing.

The original – Red rotten- and tattered.

Once the text block is dis-bound and archivally preserved I then sewed it on minimally processed Irish Linen cords “two-on” in order to minimize the width of the spine. The original page edges were treated with a red dye and minimal black speckles. The black was almost gone but apparent when viewed under a magnifying glass and good light. After squaring,  trimming, and polishing the page edges a natural acid free scarlet dye was applied very lightly. I then speckled black India ink over the page edges and I sealed them with a waterproof and fade resistant sealant. I then repolished them with beeswax. All of these materials were natural, acid free, and applied in the correct fashion in order to have the color sit on the very edge but disallow the color bleeding into the paper.

Dyed and rounded, smoothed and shined page fore edges.

The Rounded and glued back. One can see the cords sticking out. I also added mull to ensure a strong hinge.

The top edge. I found that the text block was cut at an angle on the top edge after I had squared it up. Rather than re-cut it and possibly lose margin I left it and worked around this original flaw.

Once the page edges were rubricated I rounded the back and glued it up. I added a mull in between layers of glue for some added spine strength and although this book will be bound using the cords as a hinge I also used the mull for a second hinge because the original had cracked there first.

I created covers using traditional binder’s board and card stock. I backed them, added a hollow to the spine and a thick spine board with false raised bands and pressed the book. One the boards had seated I pared and hand dyed the leather. I glued and put on the leather, tied the spine, and let the book rest. Once dry I was able to compare the old and new leather color. After attempting my first stamping I realized I had prepared the leather too much, and because it had sat in the press I crushed the grain. It was impossible for me to stamp the covers correctly. So I took the covers off the book and began again. I decided at this point to do something I would normally never do.  In binding a classic book I normally build the book all together and lay on the lather. The leather is wet when applied and one “lets it rest” in heavy felts to absorb moisture and set up. I decided to circumvent procedure for the sake of safety and build the book in covers, stamp it all, and then glue it up after it has been stamped. In order to prevent the leather warping I shrunk it before dying and will use an old German technique for gluing. I did not wet the leather profusely but glued the leather and the book both, let the glue set just a bit and put the leather on. I then only lightly pressed it so as to maintain the images. Because I used 1-2 oz calf there was little paring and I later burnished the turn-ins with an iron and used binders seal on the cover to bring out a shine.  Although this might have been horribly backwards it prevented any undue damage to the book by only subjecting it to one more incident of moisture in the gluing.

Hand Dyed leather- attempting to match the color.

Original (shown with green hued piece)and Reproduction Clasps Both with white rawhide) and rawhide hinges

The original Bible had two brass clasps, or hasps, on raw-hide hinges and brass catches as well. I knew I would have to reproduce if not one, then both of these for the final product. After sewing and putting on boards I saw that the materials I used were thicker than the originals so I decided to make both clasps and lengthen them. With hand tools I was able to create a close approximation to the original. After etching it with a design it was more ornate than the original. The material used for the hinges appeared to be plastic of some kind. This could not be however since this Bible was from the later 1800’s and had never been altered by a modern binder. I came to realize the material most likely used was very thin raw-hide or vellum with a green patina on one side either from dye or leather. I chose to use thin raw-hide and paper and pared leather glued together to do the trick.

In order to recreate the tooled impression I chose to forgo the task of matching at least 10 different fonts and letter sizes, four large tools I knew I could never get and lines of tooling that would take a week to complete and instead make a brass plate for the impression. I took the original covers and scanned them into my computer. Then I used a side-by-side image of the original and built up a new image in Photoshop. I made this all by hand in Photoshop because the cover was too degraded to be picked up in the scanner. I then printed and transferred the image onto a brass plate with heat. After finding Production Supply Solutions in Minnesota I was able to get ammonium persulphate in a day and made a bath of that acid to etch the plate in. Once a battery charger was added to the mix I etched the full plate in about 3 hours.(note DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME- JRR Bookworks cannot be responsible for anyone putting acid, water, and electricity together- go to some other place to find out how this is done and come to mine to get linked up with the supplier Production Supply Solutions and look at the pictures of a completed etch)

With an etched plate I stamped several hides before finally learning the nuances to do it correctly. I then dyed the skin some more and hand tooled the spine.

Once I finished the titles on the covers I had just a few steps left to make this work complete….but they were hard steps to be sure. I attempted to reproduce the Greek inspired pattern on the spine bands numerous times, find a roll or in some way make them myself but chose to finally use one of the rolls I had in house to stamp the bands with a lacing knot pattern. I had to stamp the title on the spine along with the word “Oxford” on the bottom of the spine. I etched several plates, stamped many samples and finally toasted the leather for the impressions I got. The title got slightly darker than I had intended but after looking at it I realized it set it off as a title plate and made it stand out.

After gluing up the leather I then attached the clasps. The clasps are attached with glue and a brass staple I cut and inserted through the rawhide and cover. The clasp catches were suppose to be the same but after working with the thin metal several times and not getting them to lay flat after piercing them I decided to step away lest I do any harm to the boards. I chose to add a super thin strip of rawhide along the underside of the cover where the clasps went in order to prevent the same tearing away of the cover that had happened before. This strengthened the cover lip immensely and I then used brass rivets to finally attach the catches. This is many times stronger than the original and a variation I think acceptable. After finally attaching the clasps and adjusting them for tension I added the paste downs and rubbed the exterior with an all natural binder’s sealant. Below is the final product.

The completed clasps.

Glamour shot

Finished Spine Details

Glamour Shot

One can read more about the Lord Wharton gift Bible at: it is an interesting story.  Here is an extensive quote

Lord Wharton founded his Bible charity shortly before he died in 1696. He left land near York, which subsequently became known as the Bible Lands. in order to maintain the Trust. This land was sold in 1871, but by then the Trust had built up sufficient financial reserves to maintain its activities right up to the present day.His intention was to present Bibles to children to be their personal possession (ie not just for use in school or church). Initially Bibles were available in those parts of England where Philip Lord Wharton had lived or owned property, ie Yorkshire, Cumberland, Westmorland and Buckinghamshire, but by the twentieth century this became expanded to include all parts of the United Kingdom. The conditions were that the recipient had to be able to read, and to be able to recite from memory Psalms 1,15,25,37,101,113 and 145. Initially 1050 Bibles were distributed each year; in the early years of the twentieth century several times that number.Lord Wharton was a puritan and a non-conformist. His original instructions were that the Shorter Catechism as approved by the Westminster Assembly of Divines (and still known today as the Scottish Catechism) should be distributed with the King James translation of the Bible to the recipients. Over the years the original trustees died and were replaced in the main by Anglican clergymen, who mis-interpreted Lord Wharton’s wishes and began including the Church of England Catechism instead of the Scottish Catechism, and by the nineteenth century the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer (sometimes in separate volumes, sometimes combined) were distributed almost exclusively through the Church of England.However a few free church ministers (including John Boyd from Low Row in Swaledale, and Bryan Dale from Bradford) knew the correct history of the Trust and approached the Charity Commissioners for re-dress. This was partially successful in that the Charity Commissioners decreed that the Trust should be divided into two – one half to be administered by the Church of England and the other by the free churches. Although at the time some free-churchmen still felt that they had been cheated it is to be remembered that Lord Wharton himself was always in favour of toleration and comprehension and so would probably not have dis-approved of the present day arrangements.Today the Trust is still alive and active and presents Bibles to under 18 year olds. In keeping with modern educational practice the conditions now require bible study rather than too much learning by rote, and modern translations of the bible are also available.So such bibles are not rare. Many thousands have been presented through more than 300 years but it does show that the original recipients worked hard to earn their Bibles and will probably have treasured them for a lifetime.