For the leather binding book collector we want to share an important step in preserving your precious leather bound books: Hydrating the leather. Because leather is an organic material meant to deteriorate over time, it's important to take preventative measures to help leather bindings last a long long time. Hydrating a leather binding is one of the most important and simplest steps a collector with finely bound books can do to ensure a long lasting collection.
Hydrating your leader bindings only needs to happen once a year. We suggest using Restoration Leather Conditioner from Talas. There are many conditioners on the market, but make sure the leather conditioner you use does NOT contain neatsfoot oil. Neatsfoot oil is great for horse tack, baseball gloves, and leather boots because these items are often in motion. If Neatsfoot oil is used on a leather binding, it will crystallize, oxidize, and weaken the leather fibers of your books.
Steps for Conditioning:
- Lightly dampen a clean soft cotton cloth with restoration oil (a little goes a long way; you don't need to saturate the cloth).
- Using your dampened cloth, gently rub over the spine of your book, then the back and front covers. Don't forget to condition the edges and turn-ins, but use extreme caution when wiping over the turn-ins; you don't want to get oil on the paste down papers.
- Allow the book to rest for a few minutes and soak in all the oil. Then with another clean dry soft cloth wipe off any excess oil. You're done! It's that easy!
Very dry leather will suck up the conditioner immediately. If this happens, apply a second coat, but do not saturate the leather.
Note: If your leather binding is already cracking, crumbling, or powdery it needs the attention of a conservator (we would love to help!). Leather conditioner will not fix these problems.
Here are a couple different leather conditioners we recommend if you're not comfortable with Talas' fluid formula. These are a gel-like formula that can be wiped on and the excess easily wiped off.