Ever wonder why a genuine leather Bible lasts so much longer than a bonded leather Bible? Did you know that most “genuine leather” Bibles are actually pigskin?
In the past year, I have been doing a little reading and research about the design and production of Bibles. The most helpful website in this process has been Bible Design Blog. Another helpful site has been Leonard’s Book Restoration Station.
Bonded leather Bibles are a composite of leather strips and leftover particles, dust, and glue. Genuine leather is a whole piece of hide from the animal. As more than one Bible connoisseur has noted it’s kind of like the difference between particle board and real wood. Another appropriate illustration might be the difference between a hot dog and a steak. Through the years, I’ve purchased my share of bonded leather Bibles in order to save a few bucks. But they never last as long. It really is one of those cases in which you get what you pay for. That said, any Bible that is read and studied is better than no Bible at all.
Here is Eric Haley, Propietor of Leonard’s, demonstrating the difference in bonded vs. genuine leathers:
I was recently on the phone with the good folks at Leonard’s and secured permission to reproduce this helpful information about Bible from Eric regarding the different kinds of leather:
Bible Leather Lingo and Its Evolution — A Call for Honesty
A pet peeve of mine has always been intentional misrepresentation and misnomer. The old classic examples are the word “official” on a kid’s baseball mitt, “limited edition” on something that has no defined limit, and “authentic” without any qualifiers.
Every field of marketing surely has its own Orwellian New Speak. In the furniture world, a piece of wooden furniture may be called “vintage walnut,” “classic walnut,” “walnut finish,” “walnut grain,” … all of which probably mean one thing: the piece is not solid walnut.
New Speak also exists in the world of Bible manufacturing. I’m not referring to the text, though I’m sure examples could be given. I’m thinking more of the Bible covers, which is my field of craftsmanship. We commonly receive Bibles marked “Genuine … (whatever).” I sometimes wish Bible manufacturers would just print the word “Genuine” and leave it at that.
Here are my favorites.
Genuine Bonded Leather .. sort of like saying “Genuine Particle Board.” Bonded leather is a great binding for Bibles that are seldom used. It’s known for disintegrating with frequent contact with human beings.
Italian Calf … What makes it Italian? Does anybody know? Just asking.
Spanish Bonded Leather … ???
Top Grain … Sounds like it’s the best, but it’s actually considered second best when compared to “full grain.” The best leathers are those that have not been skived or split, but are the full hide. “Top Grain” means that you are getting the top side of a split hide. The best hides for binding are those that are from younger and therefore smaller animals, providing a naturally thin hide. Top grain cowhide is nice enough, but you can’t even necessarily assume that the words “Top Grain” on your Bible assure that it’s cowhide. It only means that whatever leather they used, it was the top side of the split. At Leonard’s we use calfskin rather than cowhide. (Younger vs. older.)
Genuine Berkshire… Come on — it’s pigskin. There’s nothing wrong with pigskin, if you can just call it what it is. There are more than seventy hog varieties in the world. But has anyone ever heard of a Bible bound in “Chester White,” a breed so popular that it has its own journal? While there are a few examples of Berkshire bindings actually being calfskin, most are pigskin, dignified with a classy British sounding name. In fact, if your Bible says “Genuine Leather” and nothing else, it’s most likely pigskin. Just look under the grain closely. Do you see little tiny pores like on your own skin? If you do, you have a pigskin binding. By the way, pigskin is a very durable leather and inexpensive here in the U.S. Though there might be a few theological issues for some, we highly recommend it for its durability.
Genuine Morocco … Last I checked, Morocco was a country, not a leather. But a few hundred years ago, someone rubbed some goatskin on a rock or a board and came up with a unique, bumpy grain. This became a preferred binding leather and was known as Morocco goatskin, presumably because it happened in Morocco. Somewhere along the line the word “goatskin” became unnecessary to describe goatskin. All that was necessary was to say, “My Bible is Morocco Bound.” (Sounds like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby — “Like Webster’s Dictionary, we’re Morocco-bound.”
French Morocco … Also a country. Actually, it was someone’s idea of a new kind of Morocco. And, no, it wasn’t made from French goats. It was sheepskin.
Finally we come to the current state of this misnomer. A major Bible manufacturer lets on that their “French Morocco“ is made of thin cowhide. I give them credit in that they at least told us what it was made of. There’s nothing at all wrong with a cowhide Bible, … just tell it like it is. However the Bible in question is not Morocco in any sense of the word. It doesn’t even have a morocco grain. It looks like what is commonly called “mission grain.”
To press this issue a little further, let me use buffalo wings as an illustration. Now everyone knows what buffalo wings are and are not. We know that buffalos don’t fly any more than swine do. Buffalo is a misnomer for hot, and is used in conjunction with wings as in chicken wings. Twenty years ago, a person may have looked at you rather oddly if you offered them a plate of buffalo wings; today we don’t bat an eye, but eat them with every expectation of tasting spicy chicken.
But what if you bit into what you thought was chicken and tasted pork? What if you took your concern to the cook and were told that, “Our buffalo wings are made from pork”? Hmmm. Maybe pigs do fly.
I really don’t mean to sound judgmental. We probably have our own misnomers that folks could pick at. We advertise an Outback Bible made of genuine kangaroo from Australia. It is indeed from Australia but we really have no proof that the unfortunate creature was from the Outback region of Australia. It could very well have been bagged in Sidney. But we do our best not to misrepresent our product. It may be common practice in a fallen world, but for some reason we feel that those in the business of selling Bibles and Bible covers should be held to a higher standard. What do you think?” — Eric Haley (original post HERE)
Fascinating stuff, is it not? Here are samples of Eric’s work from Mark Bertrands Bible Design Blog:
Here’s Leonard’s website: http://www.leonardsbooks.com
Here are a few more quotes regarding “bonded leather”
Bonded leather is much like particle board. Leather dust and particles (a by-product of the leather making process) are combined with glue to create a leather-like material.”
– Levy’s Leathers
…the lowest grade of leather on the market. Bonded leather items are constructed using a manmade product, such as cardboard, that is then surrounded with fragments of split leather and secured by glue. It has the look and feel of leather, but not the durability.”
– Sierra Trading Post
This leather is a composite of leather dust and particles, and glue to form sheets resembling leather. These are grounded, pulverized or shredded leather and thus is not wholly the hide of an animal.”
– Andre Gerdes Leathers