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The making of New Naturalist Leatherbound Editions

For the 100th edition of the New Naturalists series, Woodlands, Collins celebrated by bringing out a special signed leatherbound edition. It was well received and we have continued to produce these deluxe editions, allbeit in very limited numbers, for every new title we publish.
The New Naturalist leatherbound editions remain something of a secret known only to fans of the series, given that we don’t sell or publicise it beyond this website. But we thought it was time to let the genie a little further out of the bottle and describe to you the 40 skilled steps undertaken to create a valuable book that will endure for over 100 years. Over now to our binder, Ludlows, to take you through it:
Binding New Naturalist Deluxe Editions:
The books are printed and folded and then sewn producing what is called a bookblock. The sewing gives the strongest form of binding there is. When we receive the bookblock our first operations is to go through each book reducing each sew hole so that the glue we use only penetrates a minimum amount into the book.
We then buy specially thick paper the blackest that there is called Ebony and we cut and fold the end paper and tip a 4pp of the Ebony paper on to the book block. These are called end papers. The tipping has to be accurate and strong as it is the end paper which holds the book block into the hard case.
Once this is done we then nip the book by pressure to get the spine to be the same thickness if possible to the front of the book which binders call the foredge.
We then glue the spine of the book up with a coating of glue which is applied with a glue brush.
We use a water based glue for the book which is important as this means that when the book is bound it exhibits excellent open flat qualities so that the when you are reading the book it opens easily and stays open and flat where you are reading it. Mechanical binding will not give you this on books of the thickness of New Naturalist.
We then cut the book on all three edges on a guillotine.
Then the books are gilded on all three edges. This is the application of gold foil on to the edges of the books. Each book is sanded using extremely fine sand paper to achieve a smoothness like glass. Once this is done a shelak is applied to seal the paper and assist adhesion of the gold foil to the edges.
Once the shelak is dry the gold foil is applied using heat and pressure. The book is then “Rounded and Backed” . This is the rounding of the spine of the book. This on craft bound books such as these is an important process to get right. The book is tightly clamped into a hand operated rounding machine. For each book, the process commences by manual use of a rounding hammer delicately starting off the round to be finished by the hand operated machine.
Once the rounding has been done the hammer is again used to “back” the book which is the creation of two shoulders on the spine of the book. These shoulders keep the book in the case. Once rounding and backing has been achieved we manually affix “head and tail bands.” These are the brown material on the head and tail of the book which hide the bound ends of the pages.
We then take best quality Dutch grey book binding board and cut it to the required size.
Then we move on to the leather. We buy Nigerian goatskin leather. We find that goatskin is hard wearing has a beautiful grain and feels and smells as proper leather should. A leather bound book is not just about its contents but is a beautiful object in its own right . When taken in the hand, one’s sense of touch, smell and sight are engaged by what a leather brings to a book.
The leather is hand picked by the British Tannery on regular buying trips to Nigeria. All the goats that it comes from are free range and the staple farm animal of Nigerian agriculture. They come to the UK and go to our tannery in Northamptonshire who dye the leather with dyes to achieve the rich dark brown.
They are shipped to us and we inspect every skin before cutting panels out to ensure no natural faults are going to unduly effect the look of the book. Every skin is slightly different so each book is unique but very similar to the others in the series.
The Panels are then cut from the leather and the panels are then skived down (thinned) to get the leather to a thickness the binding process can take place.
We than “pare” the edges of the leather, paring is thinning the leather again on the back of the panel around the edges of the panel about 1 cm wide. This is Vital to achieve neat cases which are the hard back element of the book.
Once this is done we then glue out the leather and apply the two grey boards and turn in all 4 edges. We have now made a case.
We then create raised bands . These are the bumps on the spine which originally were created from the sewing process in early books. Nowadays we create raised bands for decoration rather than necessity. This we do by cutting very narrow strips of leather to the width of the book and glue them in specific uniform parts of the case.
We then commence blocking or embossing the case. The Front of NN books has the NN blind embossed on to the front cover and lines either side of the raised bands. If you look carefully you can see the leather darkens with the application of heat and pressure. We make a “die” from art work which we apply heavy pressure and heat in which to achieve what we call blind embossing.
The gold “blocking is then applied to the spine in the same way but gold foil is used to create the result. Due to the grain of the leather, skill is required to get the mixture of heat and pressure correct to create a clean impression.
Once the case is complete we then “case” the book in. This is where we use glue brushes to apply a fine layer of glue to the Ebony end papers and affix the book into the hard case. Again great care is applied as it would be very easy to apply to much glue which would squeeze out and ruin the gilding, and so the book.
We then “work up” the raised bands so that they are distinct and stand proud of the spine of the book. Then we create the joints of the book (the grooves down the front and back of the book) These allow the book to be opened easily.
The book then goes into a slip case which is again hand made and requires great accuracy so that the book goes in and out easily but fits snugly into the case
We then individually inspect each copy , tip in the limitation page wrap around a plain paper dust jacket and then individually pack each book in bubble wrap and a card board sleeve and write the number of the book on the outside of the box so that you the customer get a unique superb quality hand made book in the condition it left our bindery.
This totals 40 different operations to create this book for you
We are very proud of what we make and would fully expect that your book under normal usage be perfectly usable in 100 years time. There is very little made now days that a claim like that can be made.
When handling your leather bound book always rub a clean hand up and down the spine and joints of the book to get the natural oils of your hands into the leather to feed it.
PLK Ludlow Bookbinders Ltd 2009