This week I visited Shepherd’s Bookbinders in London and the British Library in order to understand more about how books are made & restored, then preserved and stored for public use.
My first stop was Shepherd’s bookmaking supplies shop, where I marvelled at the range of materials available to make your own books.
I then walked the short distance to Shepherd’s Bindery. The Bindery is located on Rochester Row, and is a small 2 story workshop where all sorts of book-related work is carried out. I was met by Ali, who took me for a tour and explained the process of what they do, in addition to showing me some of the completed works. I was also taken around the restoration part of the workshop where employees were working on a variety of ancient books.
The Bindery works on a variety of projects of varying importance and value, from re-covering a set of first edition Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, to adding gold leaf to the page edges of a full set of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels.
The process starts with stitching together the folios that make up the main content of the book.
The cover is then added to the book. The Bindery also works on less mainstream projects, and at the time were working on a set of files for a client. This project is what the majority of the workshop were working on at that moment, so rather than covering books, they were covering and constructing the files.
Gold leaf was added to decorate the covers of the books and the decoration was made using a range of tools.
Downstairs, the restoration of books was the main priority.
One book being restored was a huge old dictionary. I was told the story was that the book belonged to the client’s grandfather, and they used it, like he did, to solve crossword puzzles. The spine was being replaced as the years of constant use had left it in pieces. I noted the dictionary had dirty marks on the page edges, from the years of page turning, and lifting on and off the shelf. Whilst I was there, the restorer, Luke, opened the dictionary up to show me and we discovered an anniversary card between the pages, with a pressed flower inside. This personalised item gave the dictionary even more of a back story and allowed us to find out more about the owner and history of the book.
This was a great behind-the scenes view of how books are made and restored. The stories that each book tells are completely different and I can use this research in my own books of stories.