Question:

Cloth Hardcover vs Leatherbound Hardcover:  Between the two, which one do you say is better for long-term keeping?  I have some old books that I want to rebind, and I’m not sure which is better.

 

   Old Books needing restoration

Answer:

Better depends upon more than just keeping the book, but also its presentation. It is more than acceptable to upgrade a modern book to a fine leather binding to make it a collector’s edition, but when we’re dealing with an antiquarian book, there are other considerations.

A book, let’s say, from the 1820’s, should always be bound in leather, since cloth was never used during that period.  I believe the binding of an antiquarian book should always match the period of the book, if at all possible.

In a different field of collecting, it would be like taking a fine colonial lamp stand, cutting the legs off, and turning it into a short coffee table, and painting it pink with daisies.  You’ve made it useful, and in a way, preserved it, but a future generation may look at it as an antique destroyed, and then dispose of it.  Thus, the preservation attempt failed.

Am I getting too philosophical here?  With books, we have to think beyond our generation and consider what is good for the book.

Leather or cloth can be preserved by using acid-free materials and maintaining them.  There are leather books that have survived hundreds of years with proper care.  Cloth has not had that opportunity, but I believe you could achieve the same longevity with proper care.

The worst thing for any book is to be neglected or relegated to attic or basement status.  This happens more often because of someone not recognizing the value, but merely judging the book by its cover.

The best thing for any book is to be placed in a position of easy access, where it can be observed and read.  Whether leather or cloth, it should be kept out of direct sunlight, away from unshielded fluorescent light, and in a temperature- and humidity-controlled climate.