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Re: Bookbinding Leather Suppliers

Bonnie writes:

> -- cheap, cheap, cheap!!

As with most things, you get what you pay for!

>On the leather subject, can anyone recommend books or other resources (web,
>etc) on leather in general? I only know what I'm buying from asking at the
>shops I buy from, but I'd be interested to have some reference on the
>different types of leather (which animals, etc), as well as an overview of
>the tanning process, how skins/hides are dyed, etc...

Other than my own site with information about parchment/vellum making, and
another site with info on Native American Brain tanning, I don't know of any
sites with good (ie. detailed) information on tanning.  I hope to add some
generic tanning information to my site in the future.  My interests revolve
around traditional tanning/dyeing methods however, and so I'm not as familiar
with some of the high tech stuff that goes on in a modern tannery.

Aside from the workability problems outlined by Peter,
a problem with most of the inexpensive leathers you will find at various
outlets is that they were mass produced with low cost in mind.  In the weights
most binders would choose, they would probably have been produced for garment
or shoe applications.  For such applications, long term stability is not a
big concern.  These leathers may in fact be very good leathers for their
intended purpose, that doesn't mean they will make good book leathers.
Although most all leathers are at least to some extent acidic
due to the nature of the tanning process (and in some cases this is relatively
harmless - eg. alum tawed skins), cheaper leathers may have excess residual
acid and other chemicals that may not only degrade the leather itself, but also
contaminate the text block and any other materials with which they come into
contact.  The problem with scrap leather you fish out of a bargain bin is that
you never know how good or bad it is.  A shoe or a leather jacket will be worn
out or out of style long before degradation of the leather is a big concern.

Now if the book you are making is intented to be 'cheap', and longevity is not
of great concern, then by all means go with the cheap leather.  However, it
would be somewhat inappropriate and self-defeating to use high quality
materials for the textblock of your book and then bind it in a poor quality
leather.  Better to cover the book in cloth or paper.

As to information on leather and tanning, I can recommend several books:

>From a historical/conservation perspective, an excellent overview of leather,
parchment, etc., with discussions of the differences in animal skins, tanning
processes, etc. :

Reed, R.  1972.  Ancient Skins, Parchments and Leathers.  New
     York:  Seminar Press.

For information about the tanning process from a more modern, industrial,

Thorstensen, Thomas C.  1969.  Practical Leather Technology.  New York: Reinhold
    Book Corporation.

>From a hands-on, this is how you tan a skin yourself (but still containing
excellent historical/technical information) point of view, I HIGHLY recommend:

LEATHER - Preparation and tanning by traditional methods
Lotta Rahme, Dag Hartman (chemistry sections)
(Published as Skinn, in Sweden, 1991) Now translated into English
Published by the Caber press - contact Thompson Conservation Laboratory
at tcl@xxxxxxxxxxxx for ordering information

This last book is far and away the best book on home tanning I've ever read.
A fine companion to Ancient Skins, Parchments, and Leathers.

If you have any further questions, feel free to drop me a line at:


Cheers, Rick

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