Bible Restoration Information
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David Donahue
Book Restorations
Restorations & Repairs

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1241 Carpenter St. Studio 319
Philadelphia, Pa 19147
The majority of bible repairs or restorations fall into one of several categories:

  • Large family bibles, from the mid 1800's, with elaborate and decorative leather
    covers, usually containing family history pages. We call these Victorian Era

  • Medium Size Catholic Edition Bible, 25-50 years old.  

  • Large hand bound family bibles published prior to 1800-1850 usually in full  
    calfskin leather, usualy published in the United States.  

  • Small personal reading bibles that have failed due to heavy daily use.

  • Pre-1800 bibles, often found with wood boards covered in leather.  Most of
    these types of binding were published in Europe.

Large Victorian Era Family Bibles.

Large family bibles are the most common type of bible restoration performed.   With
the advent of the industrial age and new manufacturing processes, thousands of these t
bibles were printed between 1850 and 1920, many with similar covers, embossed
leather with elaborate gold tooling.  They are not particularly valuable as collectibles,
but they hold tremendous sentimental value for many families who use them to record
the family history.

This is the bible your great grandparents held and read, and in many cases, it is the
irreplaceable source of family information about births, marriages and deaths. Most
bibles come into our bindery with the covers falling off;  the leather dirty, worn, ripped
or missing; all or part of the spine missing; and pages loose, ripped or barely hanging
on.   In short, they are a mess.  More severe cases have the covers warped or buckled
and sometimes all the gold is worn off. The most severe cases often have duct tape on
them, or many pages in tiny little pieces.  Still, we fix them all.    

There are several required tasks in any restoration process.  First, identify he damage
on the book, the areas to be repaired, and the methods and materials that will produce
the best result.  Next step is to stabilize and strengthen the book, then finally restore as
much of the original book as possible.

Due to the size and weight of Victorian era bibles, most times stabilizing the book
entails taking the book apart from the covers, repairing and strengthening the spine,
then reassembling the book.   

The cost for a family bible restoration starts around $500, with the average typical
restoration costing between $500-800.00, with page repairs often contributing the
highest or missing spines most often contributing to the the higher end repair cost.

Reading Bibles – these small personal bibles generally have great sentimental value to
the owner as often they are the first bible owned, and they usually contain personal
hand written notes related to the owner’s study.  As such they are essentially

Reading bibles were meant to be inexpensive, and were usually produced with flexible
covers made of a man made leather like material called bonded leather.  It looks like real
leather, but it is not.   The pages are usually made from a lighter grade of paper and are
very prone to crumbling and tearing.  Most bibles of this type find their way to my
shop when the covers have disintegrated from use and are falling off the book.

The simple fact is that the cost of restoring a personal bible is always going to be more
expensive than an outright purchase of a replacement copy, and often requires the
same amount of restoration labor as a large family bible.  It's only in the materials cost
that we can reduce the overall estimate.  

I do not use bonded leather. I use genuine French chagreen goat skin leather, or
premium Sodoko goat skin leather.    I deconstruct these bibles down to the base spine
area, and build them back with new materials and hinges to provide a long service life.   
As mentioned this is the same method used to restore very expensive collectibles, so it
costs  more than a quick new cover of bonded leather glued back onto the text block.  

In the base price for a new binding, I include stamping Holy Bible on the front and
spine in gold leaf, and the owner's name in the lower right corner of the front cover.  

New bindings for personal bibles start at $180 and up.  If you want a turnaround time
of  about two weeks, then the work must be done on overtime and the prices start at
$240.00.   I'm embarressed sometimes when I have to tell someone this is the
restoration cost for a book that might have originally cost $35.00, but there is no way
around it.  This is what it costs for us to do one of these bible correctly and we are not
going to do them any other way.  

Mid-20th Century Catholic Bibles - these bibles have bonded leather covers, with
pictorial inserts and pictorial end papers.   They usually have a flexible lip that folds
over the pages for protection, and this lip is one of the main failure spots on the bible.  

This type of bible does not usually permit the traditional method of leather rebacking,
and the bonded leather is usually too dry to handle any type of traditional repairs.   I
used to do restorations for these bibles, but I can put on a brand new high quality
leather binding for less than an unsatisfactory repair, so I am almost always going to
recommend a new binding.   New bindings start at $240.00

Restorations of this type of bible, if you really feel you want the original binding saved
and used start at $500.00.  It's a lot of extra labor.  

Older Hand Bound Bibles -  most bibles printed and bound before 1850 were done by
hand, and today they require a little extra care when restoring.   Many bibles of this
period have substantial damage, or material losses to the leather covers.   If a partial or
full restoration is not possible, I rebind these bibles using period processes and
materials, and I finish them with the same type of decorations that would have been
found on the original covers.  

Restorations of older, hand bound bibles start at $600 and up.  
“It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it.”
― Oscar Wilde