Repurposed Leather

John Newbery. A Spelling Dictionary of the English Language…. 12th Ed. London: T. Carnan and F. Newbery, 1770. Source:

Jeff Altepeter, Head of the Bookbinding Department at North Bennet Street School (NBSS) in Boston, recently acquired this book for their historic binding collection.  Do you notice something interesting about the tooling?

The covering leather has been reused from the board of another book. I don’t think this is the first binding for this book for a number of reasons that aren’t visible: the lack of headbands, the dislocation of signatures which seems to indicate an aggressive spine cleaning, and the fact that the leather is too thick and not properly adhered to the spine and the paper label. I think is was done by an amateur or novice. But the selection of the repurposed leather is extraordinary.

Observe that the lines of the board panel neatly mimic four evenly spaces panel divisions. The numbers on the paper label above the title label make me think this was done in a bookshop or for a bookseller. Primarily judging from the lettering on the paper label, I’d guess this rebinding is likely from the nineteenth century.

In the past decade or so, books that were likely not made (or repaired) by professional bookbinders have become a hot topic. The scholarly trend of considering the book as a democratic multiple started with Artist Books in the 1970’s, and now encompasses vernacular examples?

Title page.



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