Collecting Leather Books
We love collecting any type of book. But leather books and booksets just have that extra spark on a bookshelf. It doesn’t seem to matter if they still posses that new leather smell or if they are nearly in pieces, leather books have a place on every shelf and a special place in our book-loving hearts. We have put together a high-level overview of leather books to assist in your collecting and purchasing.
Types of Leather Books
Genuine Leather Fine Bindings (Hand Made)
These types of bindings are created using genuine leather and are typically made using hand made processes and tools. They are typically referred to as fine bindings since the leather has a clear and distinct appearance. You will often find marbled paper used on the boards (for half and quarter leather bindings), as well as marbled paper used for pastedowns and endpapers. Most have decorative gilt stamped into the leather both for labeling and for decorative purposes.
- Leatherette – Instead of using hardcover boards, a softcover is bound in a leather.
- Quarter (1/4) Leather – Only the spine backstrip is covered in leather. Rule of thumb is that 1/4 of the topedge is occupied by leather.
- Half (1/2) Leather – The spine backstrip is covered in leather and a very small portion of the book corners. Rule of thumb is that 1/2 of the topedge is occupied by leather.
- Three Quarter (3/4) Leather – The spine backstrip is covered in leather and meets the leather from the book corners to nearly form a triangular shape on the boards. Rule of thumb is that 3/4 of the topedge is occupied by leather.
- Full Leather – The entire boards are covered in leather.
Premium Leather Bindings (Mass Produced)
These leather books are likely made with similar leather material but has a much harder/harsher feel to the book. On a more positive note, all of the materials are cut with precision and the bindings are nearly identical to books from the same publisher.
- Easton Press – Varying collectibility of leather bindings but widely considered the premier publisher of collector’s edition books and booksets.
- Franklin Library – Varying collectibility of leather bindings, which can include some valuable limited edition books and booksets. Their average book offering is typically a grade below Easton Press.
- Others – Gryphon Editions, Palladium Press, and other publishers create Varying collectibility of bindings but widely considered the premier publisher of collector’s edition books.
Other Terms to Know
- Marbled Paper – it is all the craze! The interesting part about marbled paper is the number of patterns and colors are endless.
- Raised Bands – The bumps on the spine of the book, with five bands being the most common.
- Gilt – The gold that is stamped into the leather. It is also used on page edges and can be on one side of the textblock or all three sides.
- Spine Label – The name, author, and other book information stamped into the backstrip.
- Vintage – Rule of thumb is anything over 30 years of age or older.
- Antique – Rule of thumb is anything 100 years of age or older.
Dry Rot – This is a sign that the leather has lost the ability to retain moisture and has become hard, brittle, cracked, chipped, and will most likely deteriorate in your hands. This doesn’t necessarily mean the book should be discarded, in fact, most of the book is still useful. Depending on the value of the book, you can keep the book as-is or have it rebound.
Rubbed Boards – Often times as a result of dry rot, or even an instance where the leather is starting to dry out but not completely destroyed, the leather stain will rub onto other materials or scratch easily. This is quite common on the corners of the leather boards and spine. Occasionally, the color stained into the leather will rub off onto anything it touches including your hands.
Imitation Leather – Often times, there are books made with leather-like materials that are merely an imitation leather. Since they are made with lower quality materials, including binding materials and paper, the longevity and durability of these books are diminished.
Cracked Hinges/Detached Boards – Depending upon the age and quality of leather used, leather books tend to suffer from wear at the hinges. This can cause the exterior hinges to crack, or even crack from the inside-out. If this is severe enough, the boards will detach. If your book has value (sentimental or real value), it can be rebound and fixed.
Tanned or Sunned Boards – Leather is susceptible to dark stains from being exposed to the sun that can tan the leather. This can impact the value of leather books. Tip: Keep your books and shelves facing away from windows or install glass tint with UV protection.
We love buying, selling, and collecting leather books and hope you do too. Hopefully, this guide gives you some general information so that you are better informed in making book purchases. Should you ever have any questions, feel free to reach out with your questions. Happy book hunting!