Saturday, March 5, 2016

Review: Bible Rebinding - Cambridge Cameo NASB by AA Leather

 Cambridge Cameo NASB Bible

Rebound by AA Leather

It started with a purchase in a local thrift store.  I love to check any store that sells Bibles - especially used ones.  This time, I found a Cambridge Cameo KJV Bible bound in Morocco and leather lined.  The gilding is nearly gone, a huge stain affects about half the pages, the cover is worn, the front flyleaf is gone and many of the pages are wrinkled.  But the paper is opaque, the print is dark, the Bible opens quickly, lays flat and is easier to read than many larger Bibles.  I thought I was stealing it for just $1 (USD).  It is a wonderful Bible.

I don't use it as much as I should since I prefer the New American Standard Bible.  Several years after this purchase, I joined some Bible collecting groups.  I dreamed about finding this Cameo setting in another translation.  After some time, I heard a rumor that there had been a Cambridge Cameo published in New American Standard!  So I started searching and asking around to see if one would surface.

I found one on eBay but the price was too high for me.  At least I knew they existed!  I kept watching for about a year.  Then a very nice one, essentially new in the box, appeared.  But again, the price was too high.  I watched it anyway, hoping for a price reduction.  It was finally relisted with a "best offer" option.  The seller and I came to an agreement and I finally had the Cameo.

The cover was bonded leather.  It did not appear that 35+ years of sitting in the box were good for the leather.  It was extremely stiff.  It also gave off a strange chemical smell.  The cover made it hard to open the Bible.  Finding a passage was difficult as the stiff cover didn't allow quick thumbing to a passage.  I was hoping to work it enough to make it lay flat like the KJV with its super flexible leather lined cover.  I am sure over time it would have improved, but it would never be as good as that.

But I now had my NASB Bible now sitting by my computer.  It immediately became my quick reference Bible.  The print and paper are just as good as the KJV.  I need bifocals (actually progressive lenses) to read.  But even without them I can read this Bible.  I have to hold it at arms length but it is readable.  This is a testimony to the strong print of this wonderful text.

I tried some leather conditioner but it did not help.  No amount of Lexol or mink oil is going to turn a bonded leather into goatskin.  I started thinking about sending the Bible off to be rebound.  But I wasn't sure about spending the money.  I've had a few Bibles rebound with varying degrees of success.  The first was at least 10 years ago.  It did put a split Bible back together but otherwise it is a horrible work.  The cover feels like fake leather on cardboard.  The hinge is glued so poorly that pulling the cover open pulls the first 10 pages with it.

The second time  I still didn't know enough about getting a Bible rebound.  But thanks to the Bible collecting groups I had seen pictures of rebinding projects.  I at least knew a binder that would do quality work.  I had a cheap large print NIV (1984) rebound in goatskin.  The binder inserted binding cord to reinforce the glued binding.  I got a good quality rebind on a Bible I've used for preaching many times.  But a couple aspects kept it from being perfect:  The leather wasn't skived where it was folded over.  This makes for a strange, thick edge all around the cover.  The imprinting on the spine was a little rough. These are cosmetic details, of course, and do not affect the reading of this Bible.

The next time I thought I knew more about rebinding.  I chose yet another binder.  I picked out leathers that I wanted and wrote out specific directions.  I sent off two Bibles that belonged to my parents.  As it turned out, my leather selection wasn't good.  My directions weren't specific enough and I'd even switched two important details.  Add to that the binder glued over part of the dedication pages.  I wish I had left the tattered Bibles alone.  Lesson learned:  I do not know enough to direct a rebinding project.

My experiences led me to decide I probably wouldn't try to rebind anything anymore.  I don't make a lot of money so each of these was a significant investment for me.  If it didn't either improve my reading or preserve old Bibles then I couldn't justify the expense.

A pastor (Ray Cabrera) I met through the Bible groups had sold me a hard-to-find NASB some time back.  I'd been watching his posts since then about Bibles and rebinding projects.  He obviously had experience and knowledge about Bibles.  And he posted pictures and videos of his projects.  You can view Ray Cabrera's video about one of his rebinds.  I loved the look of the Bible.  It also appeared to have the flexibility I wanted.  I asked Ray about it.  He gave me details and good advice:  "be very specific in what you want."

The rebinder Ray used for that project is AA Leather.  Many members of the Bible collecting groups have had Bibles rebound by AA Leather.  I filled out an order form.  I filled out the PDF on my computer rather than writing it out by hand.  This was good because I changed the form a dozen times before I made up my mind.  I went back and forth for a few months.  When I suddenly had some online sales go through, I decided to give it a try.

The whole process went smoothly and easily.  I took Ray's advice to have it bound in Nappa goatskin with kid skin liner.  This gives a bit more stiffness to the leather.  I didn't want a floppy cover - just a flexible one.  I wanted it to look much like the original but in black goatskin.  I asked for the spine to be like the original.  The front cover was to be the same but with "Holy Bible" centered.  They also replaced the single burgundy ribbon with three black ones.

When I got it back I was speechless. The Bible looks absolutely beautiful (better than the publisher's original binding). But more importantly, it feels as though it has been fitted to me personally. I can turn quickly to passages. It opens easier and flatter for extended reading. My wife commented "That's the best one you've gotten yet!" It was a good bible before. But AA Leather turned it into an excellent one. I am already reading Scripture more thanks to their excellent work.

The spine looks even better than the original.  This is sometimes a weak point of binders.  I think that getting the various tools necessary to do customized stamping is expensive.  It may be that some don't invest in various sizes since it is really only a cosmetic issue.  But this is a big purchase for many of us so details matter.

The most important issue for me is that the Bible opens better.  It opens almost as flat as my KJV Cameo already.  And this is with a new binding.  With use I expect it to become even better.  I can hold it in one hand to read while I sip a cup of tea.  What a great start to every day!


The leather liner meets the edge of the cover where it is folded over.  If you bend the cover it looks like it is coming apart.  But AA Leather assures us that it isn't coming apart.  The liner is glued solidly to the backside of the cover.  By meeting the edges of the liner and the cover it helps avoid that strange ridge all around other binder's covers.  On a small Bible that makes a greater difference than it does on larger Bibles.  The corners are very smooth and flat.  The craftsmanship is wonderful.  I was looking for functionality.  I got that but they added artistic elegance!

I was already reading through another Bible on a daily schedule when I got this one back from the binder.
So now I read one Bible in the morning and this one in the evening.  It is wonderful that it looks great.  It is helpful that it is easier to open and hold.  But it is a blessing that I am getting more of God's word in my mind and heart.  If it stays on the shelf it is useless.  If it gets held unopened in my hand like a piece of art it could become an idol.  But since it is open and being read it is serving God's purpose.

I recommend AA Leather very highly.  They offer expedited service, Bible repair, fine binding, matching journals and more.   I am so pleased with their work that my next project is to trust them to rebind a Bible given to my grandmother when she was a young girl by her mother on Christmas day.  Exodus 35:35 talks about skilled craftsmen that the Lord has called. I am convinced that some of them are at AA Leather  - preserving God's Word for us to read!