Big bible advice

I started answering questions on facebook and Instagram about big family bibles, and as most folks have been asking about the same thing, I thought it best to write them here for everyone. There are many issues that arise with bibles, but these are the ones you can have an impact on at home, before you ever see me in the bindery.

Big bibles break down.

family bible BEFORE 1

You can’t stop it – they are old – but you can anticipate where they’ll go and slow their demise by being aware of their inherent vulnerabilities. There’s also a lot you can do yourself to save your repair money for things best left to the professional 🙂  You can find the tools for the job, here: Sago Book Care Kit

INITIAL WARNING: If you even SUSPECT mold might have made camp in your book, STOP, put it in a plastic bag and put it in the freezer to buy time. Then call a book repairer or book conservator. You don’t wanna go anywhere near that stuff, and you don’t want it near your other books.

BUGS – Bugs love bibles, they have animal glue, lignin, leather and linen – all the ingredients for a satisfying bug lifestyle, and they are undisturbed for long periods of time, so long-term tenancy is secure. By bugs, I mean the tiny, tiny type – microsopic.  Dead tiny bug bits are called ‘frass’. They break down paper and must be removed as much as possible to extend the life of your bible. Removing them, along with industrial age smoke taint and other settled contaminants is laborious, page by mind-dumbing page. It is, however, the best love you can give your bible. If you have the repair kit, and plenty of time, also take the opportunity to note down tears and repairs that are required as you go – your bookbinder will be happy you saved time (and money) finding them all 🙂

Mind-dumbing but very helpful cleaning
Taking out the spine-breakers

DEMON SPINE-KILLERS – Inclusions, insertionalia, ‘shoved-in-bits-o-stuff’ …whatever you call them, things put into books, especially down in the gutter are a no-no. Books are just a balanced collection of tensions, built from the pages, up. They are designed to hold only that exact thickness. Add extra tension in one spot, plus 50years and you have a broken book. Seriously. Instead, note the relevant page and keep them in a folio WITH the book but not IN it. A good folio would be a pad of all-cotton watercolour paper to interleave the items, with page numbers or notes marked in graphite pencil. Then wrap the whole thing in a larger piece of cotton or acid free paper.

DOG-EARS: See those in the photo below? Those harmless-looking double-fold ‘dogears’?..


Don’t be tempted to bend them back or unfold them,…

because they may very well fall off, and then you’ve got detached bits to think about – a whole new level of trouble. When paper has been in a mangled or compressed state for ages, it changes and weakens, like folding a credit card over, and then back. It is a sure recipe for disaster. I use tools and techniques that help you keep your corners and pretty them too. This page has just a few but some books have thousands. Seriously. Leave them be; this goes on the pro list.

Double Dogear trouble
Lots and lots of dogears.

STORAGE: Books dislike heat, light and humidity. They also dislike rapid changes in heat, light and humidity.  Whilst a more thorough clean, consolidate and archival enclosure is the first stage of work I do to protect your book, you can help it at home by keeping it out of direct light (eg. the light of a window), away from damp (eg. away from direct blast of an evap cooler, or off of a southern external wall), and away from excess heat (eg. in the direct zone of a heater, dishwasher, fridge etc.). These bibles are also big and bulky, and best laying down flat with nothing on top, rather than vertical on a shelf. If it is already becoming loosey-goosey in the spine, or the pages are failing, then carry it round in a box when you have to – cardboard is fine, with the book in a boiled puddingcloth or wrapped in a faded old opshop teatowel, as a barrier.

Well, there are just a few of the most common sobstories of an old family member, and how you can help.

~ Love your books, folks~


3 thoughts on “Big bible advice

  1. Nice reading and good advice, I have been Hand crafting since 1965 and I only heard of you last week???
    now semi retired but still keeping my hand in with my people perishing at the thought of what to do when i go, maybe i have an answer for them. not one of my apprentices have continued in the trade.
    May I ask where you did your apprenticeship ?
    Kind Regards
    John Garner
    Bookcrafts, Geelong


    1. Hi John, I didn’t know about you either – crazy 🙂 – would love to come visit some time.
      The last bookbinder in my family was my uncle Barry but sadly he passed away before being able to teach me, though I am lucky enough to have some hand tools passed down from my grandmother… and I admit to being totally resistant as a young thing to binding at all, despite my grandmother’s urgings. Had a mainstream career in mathematics and language, but then after a high-octane two decades, realised maybe Gran was right. By then, it was too late to learn in Australia, with formal training avenues dried up. I have been binding now for ten years, by hunting down retired binders, targeted and private training from overseas binders and the generous frequent interaction online with binders and conservators via associations like AICCM, ICON, AAB, DBUK and SOB. Hoping to make it to Teluride next year, but it is always a tossup to pause paid work for overseas training. Book repair and conservation does tend to take over daily practice, as you might expect, but I move work around to make more time for private commissions each year.
      The bindery is open for visits every Saturday from October to April, 10am-4pm, unless family things surface, then I mark closed on the facebook page. So good to finally find you 🙂 ~ Cheers, Sonya.


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