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Michael O'Brien



My definition of a restoration is to bring the  book back   to a fully-functioning workable state, most importantly, that it still looks like the same book. I endeavour to retain  as much of the original materials as possible. The structure, where needed, may be completely rebuilt. For example, if I need to re-sew the book, I may choose to use a superior method to that used in the  original, however this would not be apparent when viewing the book.


I use acid-free and reversible PVA glue and mending tissue. The paper and board are also archival. I have a reasonable stock of original antique and reproduction book cloth.  I use high-quality vegetable tanned leather and always endeavour to match materials, in grain and colour, using spirit-based dyes.


Where part of the binding is missing, I can replicate simple materials and tooling, and in some cases I have fabricated a missing spine or end papers, for example.


My hourly rate is $100 an hour (no GST charged).


Below are the types of bindings I commonly restore. In theory almost anything can be restored.  


Each restoration job is unique so the  estimates below of  the time required are only a rough guide .


Methods and Materials

Cloth Bindings

Cloth bindings originated with the advent of starched book cloth in 1823. The majority of books bound from the 1850's on, were covered or partly covered in cloth. Typically there  is less work restoring a cloth binding than a leather binding. Expect up to 10 hours labour, depending on the state of dilapidation. Material cost is negligible.

Pre-1780 Leather Bindings -  (Family Bibles)

Known as tight-back bindings, these are my favourite books to restore. It is not unusual for me to have to re-sew the end-bands and reattach the boards. Typically, the most difficult part is to remove what is left of the original leather spine in one piece. As these books pre-dated industry, any paper required is new hand-made archival stock from England. Expect up to 20 hours labour. Resewing the whole book is extra labour. Material cost is usually $50-$100.


These photographs show me at work binding a   publication from 1680  in its contemporary style, that is a full leather Cambridge binding.

Victorian Leather Bindings  -  (Family Bibles)

While these images show a tight back construction they are usually typified by the sub-structure known as an Oxford hollow. In my opinion, they are not as strong as the style preceding it, so I pay extra attention to the sewing and reinforcing the new Oxford hollow that I make. Normally these books do better with a cloth joint in the end-paper.

Other Full Leather Bindings

The first two images show before and after shots of a post 1780 full leather binding. This is essentially exactly the same as a Bible in structure. A restoration such as this typically takes around twenty hours. Normally I reuse all original materials, in the case of the third image  I chose to newly tool the new leather spines to resemble the old. The book on the far right was missing its spine entirely so I reconstructed it to period style.


Half Leather and Quarter Bindings

More commonly used on multiple volumes, for reasons of economy. Their structure could be tight backed or Oxford hollowed. In general these take just as long to restore as full leather binding.

Edwardian Padded Leather Poetry Books

These books were mass produced and the original construction was  poor. Therefore they present a challange to restore.  As is often the case with restoration the finished result, whilst looking the same as the original, is in fact far stronger and more durable.


Estimating the amount of labour required for such restoration is difficult. Typically I spend between ten and twenty hours.  

Springback Ledgers

Springback ledgers are  an example of a stationery binding, a working book to be written in, as opposed to a letterpress binding, which is a book to be read from.   Typically they are very strong and robust, without the finesse and decoration lavished upon, for example, a Bible.  The images to the left show some the stages in a total restoration of a cemetary ledger.