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Thumbing Through The Bible: Restoration in Miniature

Thumbing Through The Bible: Restoration in Miniature

We are very lucky to work with talented bookbinder Alison Heath. Restoring old bindings is tremendously skilled and time consuming work. Our aim in restoration is to prevent further damage or deterioration, preserving as much of the original binding as is viable while ensuring that it continues to do its job and protect the text block. Our books are there to be read! The idea isn't to disguise the work that has been done, which is clear enough to an experienced eye, but we do want it to be sympathetic, using the appropriate materials and making good the decorative tooling where necessary.

Our latest challenge for Alison was a 300 year old 'Thumb Bible', a mere 3.5 cm tall and bound in contemporary sheep, which is a leather often used for inexpensive books such as guidebooks, schoolbooks and novelties. Our before and after photos give you an idea of what Alison had to do. The first section was loose and needed to be re-sewn and reattached; a horizontal tear to the woodcut frontispiece has been closed; she has replaced the lost front free endpaper (she painted and aged the marbled paper by hand as she couldn’t find a matching piece anywhere) and finally she got to the outside of the book and repaired the upper joint and the endcaps using pared down slivers of sheepskin. All doubly difficult when working on this tiny scale!

'Thumb Bibles' became popular devotional books for children in the 17th century, often illustrated (as here), heavily abridged (for obvious reasons), and rendered into verse. Ours, published by Richard Wilkin in 1728, seems to have been the earliest prose version. It was first published in 1727 and there are no copies dated 1728 in UK libraries (although ESTC records half a dozen overseas), but as the date change from 7 to 8 seems to have been made by hand with the stroke of a pen, I think we are looking at exactly the same sheets.

​The publisher and bookseller Richard Wilkin (d.1740) was the son of the Vicar of Heathfield in East Sussex, and he bequeathed his library to be kept in the vicarage there, for the use of all future incumbents. His upbringing was evidently a significant influence: his imprint occasionally describes him as 'R. Wilkin (a clergyman's son)' and he seems to have enjoyed publishing Tory and High Church preachers; the overwhelming majority of the books which he published on his own rather than as part of a consortium of other booksellers are theological.

​If you’d like to get in touch with Alison about your bookbinding needs you can email her at

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