Many families find themselves in possession of a Victorian period Family Bible that is in need of repair.
To be sure Family Bibles come in all sorts if sizes, from a small devotional book intended to be taken to church on Sundays, to the large format domestic Family Bible, which in style harks back to mediaeval bindings.
It is primarily the large format Family Bible repair that interests me here, rather than the much smaller type of pocket book Family Bible.
Your Family Bible may have problems with the sewing, which holds the book together. The spine leather of the book may have become separated from the spine itself; equally one of the boards may have become detached.
These large Family Bibles have these problems in portion due to economies that were made during its manufacture.
During the Victorian era Family Bible warehouses came into existence, here the pages of the Family Bible would be hand sewn by dozens of women, the sewing style used for these large books was nearly always comparatively weak, and depended for success on thick linings being applied to the bare spine of the book.
These linings supported the sewing of the book as it was opened and closed. Over time these linings fall away, leaving the sewing unsupported, this leads to a quite rapid breakdown of the sewing, and pages or even portions of the book fall out.
From the Bible warehouse where the book was sewn, it was passed into the hands of large trade binderies that specialised in the binding of Family Bibles.
The Victorian Family Bible set out to imitate the medieval book, the book itself, already large, was given boards up to half an inch thick, these boards were often made from rope waste, and they were dense, tough and heavy.
Also the Family Bible would often be given brass plated fittings, like decorative corners and clasps to hold the book shut, these fittings added considerably to the weight of the boards.
If the women dealt with the sewing, the men dealt with covering the book in leather. The leather they so often chose was a cheap thin sheepskin, as a binder I can tell you it is the softest of all leathers, and is the easiest to work with. It has always been, and is now, the cheapest of all bookbinding leathers.
So we had a Family Bible, with thick heavy boards, covered in a thin sheepskin leather, possibly complete with brass fittings.
Victorian England and no doubt other parts of the world, was lit and kept warm by coal and gas. These two fuels produced copious amounts of dilute sulphuric acid in the atmosphere. This acid attacked the leather and accelerated the process of decay.
Also, but to a lesser extent, ultra violet light helped to cause further decay. And of course no one thought to feed the leather during its life :(
For these reasons, with a Family Bible, the leather where the book hinges, breaks down, and a board, usually the front board, comes away from the cover.
So I paint you a picture of a dried out, decaying binding with a board broken off the cover. It is something I have seen so often in my 30 years as a bookbinder.
The boards were too heavy; the leather used was too thin and insubstantial anyway.
The industrial revolution saw atmospheric pollution on a hitherto unknown scale, the dilute sulphuric acid in the atmosphere, coupled with degradation by ultra violet light and lack of leather care, caused leather rot, which in turn often leads to a board becoming detached.
Of course it is possible to restore and preserve these Family Bibles, I have been doing so for many years and in my workshops here in France, I now work exclusively with Family Bibles of all sizes and conditions.
Were you to consider having your Family Bible expertly repaired, you could be assured that the both the book and its binding would be preserved for future generations of your family.
Expert Restoration of Family Bibles By Secure Postal Delivery
For more than 25 years I ran a book bindery in the grounds of an active Benedictine monastery. I now run a workshop here in France, from where I concern myself wholly with the repair and restoration of Liturgical books. By secure delivery I send and receive books from England and the USA. I am also a qualified and experienced paper conservator. I charge nothing for advice.