Judging a book by its cover

Saving books by learning about book covers

Saving books (and other media) from the recycling bin (or too low a price), requires distinguishing between bonded leather, imitation leather, sheep skin or goat skin; whether what is printed on the cover is author/artist or title. In my volunteer position of searcher/pricer at Booksavers of Virginia (http://www.booksaversofvirginia.org/ ) I have seen some of these covers, others I have gleaned from descriptions or titles in ABE Books which has fairly detailed descriptions compared to some other sources.(https://www.abebooks.com/ ).  Bibles and other pre-20th century books are bound in an astounding array of leathers and treatments. *

A calf must be sacrificed for the best Bible: full green limp calf decorated in gilt;  (This is a contemporary green calf.  “Limp” costs more.)

  • https://prometheusboundbooks.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/115.jpg

Other variations:

  • rubbed and chipped tree calf; 
  • Full treed calf binding with red leather label on spine;
  •  publisher’s quarter red calf; 
  • Mottled calf binding with banded spine; 
  • quarter plum calf with plum textured cloth boards; 
  • Full acid etched calf;
  • Contemporaneous Brown Calf Half Leather binding with five raised bands gilt titles on red morocco title slip;                        
Red Morocco leather
  •  Coeval full calf; 
  • contemporary full, speckled calf; 
  • Contemporary reversed calf; 
  • English black full diced calf; 
  • Rebound in butterscotch leather and marbled end leaves,
  • Full Leather, contemporary straight grained dark blue morocco binding with gilt lettering to the spine, gilt rules to boards and spine, decorated in blind . . .

Then there is goatskin

  • contemporary green goatskin richly gilt with a herringbone design and incorporating hearts, pineapples, stars, and other floral and leafy ornaments, gilt-decorated spine in 6 compartments, red morocco label
  • Bound in contemporary purple straight-grained goatskin, the covers tooled in blind with a wide border of repeated palmette arabesque and anthemion tools, fillets and a chain roll
  • ” Bound in fine blue polished crushed levant goatskin with six compartments, each with single gilt frame and strawberries at each corner.
  • Bound c.1873 by or for T. Kerslake & Co of Bristol in brown hard-grained goatskin over bevelled boards, the spine with five raised bands tooled with blind fillets converging
Blue Goatskin

See  contemporary Bible in blue goatskin:  https://evangelicalbible.com/product/cambridge-esv-topaz-dark-blue-goatskin-preorder/

This is one of the most expensive leathers:

The Holy Bible containing the Old and New Testaments . . .  [India paper; Water Buffalo Calf-skin leather lined, hand-grained] 

Perhaps one of the most elaborate cover descriptions –and only part of it description!

Contemporary full red goatskin, elaborate borders on covers incorporating a Greek key design enclosing lilies with birds and vases with flowers, and with a central monogram “M*B” on an oval green morocco onlay, surrounded by a black morocco onlay tooled with cherubs, the whole surrounded by a flame tool, smooth spines richly gilt and gilt-lettered direct, . . .  ($14, 500—at this price one needs a full description)

See the site below for examples of many of the special antique bindings


Contemporary Bible style names are inspiring

Holy Bible, King James Version – Clutch Style Snap Dusty Rose Bonded Leather; Holy Bible, NKJV: Royal Reference, Dusty Rose, Bonded Leather, Thumb Indexed.

Other striking/amusing/eye-catching binding terms

Bumpus binding; Gilt inlaid contemporary moss green crushed morocco binding features …French fillet borders … raised bands, spine gilt in comportments with central rose framed with …

Paperback bunko, turtleback, mook, tankobon softcover (some of these I have not been able to find a description of)

Thomas Nelson’s Premier NKJV Bible

The Premier Collection edition of Thomas Nelson’s NKJV Wide-margin Reference Bible showcases the highest levels of design and craftsmanship: a supple goatskin leather cover, raised spine hubs, durable edge-lined binding, premium European Bible paper, beautiful art gilded edges, three satin ribbon markers, and more.


While God’s word is at the “heart” of scripture, publishing of Bibles has a lot to do with the outward appearance.  “Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart” …. (1 Samuel 16:7).  Beauty may be only skin deep, but for book sales that skin may make the difference between a ten-dollar sale and a twenty-five dollar sale.  When I started doing searching and pricing of books, I would come across the words in descriptions “reading copy only”.  I would think, “what’s a book for, anyway”.  I soon realized that a book’s cover is often as valuable as the rest of the book and a good cover may save from the recycling bin.


*Booksavers of Virginia has been receiving donations of books for more than 15 years.  Most volumes sold by Booksavers are priced between $8 and $20.  We have occasionally sold leather volumes like those listed here, but most of the descriptions above are of books available elsewhere. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s