In the summer of 2020 Covid was dominating our daily lives. National Heritage week is an annual event where a number a public and cultural buildings are open to the public. As that was not possible that year craft people were asked to take on a project and publish it online. Below was our contribution. 

National Heritage Week 2020

The Craft of Bookbinding - Duffy Bookbinders
We are delighted to be participating in this years National Heritage Week with our project theme of re-learning skills from our heritage, by showing the ancient craft of bookbinding. The project consisted of the rebinding of a two volume set of The Scenery and Antiquities of Ireland from early 1840's in the traditional leather binding of that time. The books were bound in half leather with raised band and marble paper sides. It was then finished with gold foiling lettering pieces and hand tooled on the spine and sides using traditional bookbinding tools that have been used by different generations of the family.

A little about us

Bookbinding has always been a family tradition with it now reaching four generations. The first bookbinder in the family, Paddy, had his original bookbinding apprentice interrupted by his participation in the Easter 1916 Rising. Paddy only completed his apprenticeship upon his return from Frongoch internment camp in Wales. Paddy's son, Tommy, would be next to take up the trade. It was Tommy, who in 1970, started the present company, Duffy Bookbinders, which is still thankfully thriving today. Tommy sadly passed in 1978 but today the company is still run by his son's, Tom and Pat. Tom's son, Tommy, would start his apprenticeship in 1997 bringing the craft to four generations of the family.

The Scenery And Antiquities Of Ireland

Published by Virtue of London in 1841, The Scenery and Antiquities of Ireland, is a beautifully illustrated, two volume tour of Ireland. The stunning illustrations were drawn by William Henry Bartlett with accompanying text by J.W. Stirling and N.P. Willis. This is a famous historical and descriptive text of a nineteenth century Ireland just before the famine.

I purchased the books myself from auction in a disbound state. I have had them for over a year sitting in a box waiting to be brought back to their former glory. The National Heritage Week was the perfect situation to start this project.

Preparing the Books

The first step was to remove the old tubular spines from the books. By applying a paste to the spines and allowing it to penetrate the original spines we were then able to remove them, by carefully scraping and lifting away all paper to reveal the original spines. During this process you must take great care not to cut any of the original thread sewing. It also revealed that the sections of the book had been overcast before being sewn together on recessed cords, cut into the book.

Starting the Binding

By now the books were ready for rebinding. The books required new endpapers and head and tail bands. We also fixed a new tubular spine to both books. As the books were sewn on recessed cords we would have to add false bands to give our raised band effect. These are made by gluing three off-cuts of leather together before cutting them into thin strips to be placed on the spine. We strengthened our cover boards and they were cut down to finish size before being tipped on to the endpapers. Once the false bands had dried they were trimmed on the book to the spine width. At this stage the books are ready for covering materials. All we had to do know was decide what we would use?


A template is then created for the corners and they are cut out with the same paring process beginning again. Once pared the corners are then pasted and glued before being fixed to the book.

We are now ready for our marble paper sides.


The marble paper is a lot thinner than the leather so we will panel the sides first using a 200gm card. By doing this the marble paper will appear flush beside the leather and turn ins on the cover. Both are cut out to the required size and shape before being glued for fixing.

​With all covering materials now on our books we are ready for finishing.

Hand Tooling and Finishing

All the finishing tools in our bindery have been used by generations of the family.

Each tool is individually heated before pressure is applied to the gold foil sitting on the leather. All tooling on the leather is done by hand. A larger tool was used to roll a gold line along where the leather meets the marble paper.

Lettering pieces were foiled using our blocking press. The type for the lettering pieces was cast on our own Ludlow using a 14pt Caslon Bold. The lettering pieces are then cut out.