Near Impossible Bible Restoration
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David Donahue
Book Restorations
Restorations & Repairs

Design Bindings

Hand Made Clam Shell Boxes

Preserving Memories and Knowledge
1241 Carpenter St. Studio 319
Philadelphia, Pa 19147
This was one of the most challenging bible restorations I've had to do.  The book came
in bound in military grade duct tape that was at least fifty years old.    The front cover
was missing most of the original leather and the gold work that once adorned the
book.  The spine was off, missing about 50% of the material, and the cover boards
were splitting on the edges.   Even the front and rear cover were missing about 1 to
1-1/2" inches of backing material along all the edges.  Still, it looked restorable, (I'm a
half full glass guy) and so I thought until I tried to get the tape residue off.  
“There are few sights sadder than a ruined book.”
― Lemony Snicket, The Wide Window

First, the tape residue had to be removed.  Easier said than done.  I tried every known
or published method of removing substances from a leather surface and nothing
made a dent on the adhesive residue.   I tried a commercial floor adhesive remover on
a tiny test section and it took off the residue, but it literally ate way the leather.   
Finally I discovered and used a natural Soy based stripper that removed the residue
without harming the leather.   Still I cleaned the leather compulsively once done and
treated it with a light coating of consolidator to stop the remaining red rot.   Only
about 25% of the original leather was left on the front cover, with about 60% on the

I repaired the board edges by wrapping them with pared leather, laying it down under
the covers and end papers. I sewed back on the loose signature sections.    I lined the
remaining spine material on the back side with Japanese tissue, then re-backed the
bible in the traditional manner.  Still the front and rear covers were still off and
heavily damaged..

I adhered the covers with acid free pva glue, the went to work on the graphic

The entire front and rear covers were overlaid with a super thin transparent tissue,
then the tissue over the Holy Bible text area was cut back with a scalpel as I found I
could not successfully re-gilt the text on top of the tissue.  Under a jewelers loupe I
was able to see the original embossed floral pattern had been gold with tints of red as
an outline.  It was impossible to actually re-gilt it due to cost concerns and the loss of
the leather so I decide to use a polychromatic approach. I colored the design with art
pencils then used a gold paint for highlights, red paint for tinting.   On the text
lettering I initially used a #0 artist brush dipped in a gold powder and binder base, but
I wasn't happy with the result.

Later I found a super fine gold pigment pen at the local art supply store and I used
that for final color fills.  

I applied thin tissue over th entire cover using wheat paste, then dye stained the
tissues to match the balance of the covers.   Everything looked fine but for the repair
area around the edges where the leather and embossed cardboard backing were
missing and were now replaced by leather that did not have the orange peel
appearance of the embossed backing cardboard.   I used a product that is available to
commercial leather repair servicemen that allows for stippling a pattern on a repair.  I
used an airbush without the front nozzle to splatter the material, then quick dried it
with a air dryer.  When I stained it with an aniline dye the final appearance was pretty
close to the rest of the bible.   Here's  a picture of the final delivered bible.