BURROWS — Workers stood over their projects, which included texts that were centuries old.
They smeared glue, made snips into new animal-hide covers, ironed pages and placed document tape onto damaged sheets.
A radio hummed in the workshop, which was filled with benches covered in tools and shelves stocked with rolls of leather and animal skins.
It was a typical day at Leonard's Book Restoration in Burrows, which has been refurbishing books from customers across the world for the past 16 years.
The business’ website indicates before Leonard’s Book Restoration, there was Leonard’s Antiques & Used Furniture, which the late Leonard E. Haley opened in 1972 in Lafayette. His son, Eric Haley, took over the family business in 1988 and gradually added his favorite stock — books. He moved the business to Burrows in 2001.
“He kind of got me into the books because that was the one thing he didn’t like messing with, so he’d throw them away,” Haley said of his father on Oct. 27 in his business’s workshop, which formerly served as the town’s fire station. “And as a teenager I’d start picking them up and realizing that there were some things there that were worth something.”
Haley picked up his restoration skills by dissecting his own books and learning how they were put together.
“That came from realizing I needed some things done on books that I couldn’t afford to send out and have done because bookbinding was expensive, at least at that time,” he said. “There was nobody doing it like we are.”
Haley said it took years of experimentation by himself and his staff to perfect certain jobs and find the right kind of suppliers.
“The field in a sense was almost dead and so basically to resurrect something, you don’t have the same rules,” he said.
Today Haley runs the business with his wife, Margie Haley, and uses his 30 years of experience to lead a staff of about 11 in rebinding, repairing and restoring Bibles and books.
The business completes about 220 jobs every month, Haley said, most of them Bibles. When a text comes in, Haley said it takes about four and a half weeks for it to make its way into the shop, where about two and a half hours of labor is required along with 24 hours of glue-drying time, which is done under weight to prevent warping.
Haley, who is also a pastor, described the work as a kind of ministry, going on to recall fond memories of customers asking to pray with him and his staff right in the workshop.
“You feel like you’re really involved in ministry when you’re working with people and you’re working with their precious items and they trust you with them,” he said.
Memorable jobs they’ve had over the years have included an original work from John Calvin from the 1500s that the customer donated to her alma mater and a client in Ireland they’ve worked on about 60 books for, Haley said.
Then there are those that stick out for their unique requests, like a Bible with teeth marks in it that the customer wanted preserved through the restoration, as they were imprinted by their child as a toddler. Another Bible came in with a rippled title page the customer did not want flattened because that’s where their dog had licked it, Haley remembered. “We really do try to connect with the customer on that kind of stuff,” Haley said, “so it isn’t just a business.”
As Haley shared the memories, his staff undertook tasks all around him. Zach Smith stood before a book in a vice as he spread glue across its binding in preparation for a new spine.
Haley’s son, Chris, is 30 and has been working for the family business since he was 14. On Oct. 27 he worked on a couple of texts by Dante Alighieri published in the 1800s. One had a cloth cover while the other had a leather one, but both were getting new leather spines so that they’ll look good together on a shelf, Haley explained.
“Our goal on everything we do is functional, presentable and as close to the original as possible,” Haley said.
Sometimes that means finding replacement pages for Bibles that are missing part of their text.
Haley recalled two recent customers who were victims of Hurricane Harvey. One’s Bible was “in a wad” when it arrived at the workshop and Smith spent a day and a half ironing its pages. Another customer spent days drying their Bible with a blow dryer before sending it in at about 4.5 inches thick. After two weeks in a press, it shrank back down to about 2.75 inches, Haley said.
Joe Silva, originally of Indianapolis, has been working for Leonard’s Book Restoration since 2012. His mother’s Bible was restored at the business before he started. A few years later, Silva met Susie, one of the Haleys’ daughters, at a Bible college. They soon discovered she was the one who restored his mom’s Bible. Now they’re married.
“She said she remembered it because our last name is Silva and she was printing the name in silver and she thought that was funny,” he said. “I tell everybody ‘don’t make fun of customers’ names because you might end up with it someday.’” One of the business’ more memorable jobs for Silva was a prop from “The Lord of the Rings” films — a red book the character Bilbo Baggins writes in. Silva, who is a big fan of the franchise, recalled its Elvish calligraphy and drawings.
“I was terrified to touch
it because that’s like the holy grail for a nerd,” he said.
Haley spoke highly of a technique Silva’s developed in which he starts out with a new goatskin Bible cover by twisting it. When dye is applied, the parts of the goatskin that took more stress during the twisting take on more color, creating a woodgrain effect. “Honestly I love what I do,” Silva said. “I refer to it as restoring beauty.”