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Should I use leather dressings on books?

Leather dressings were at one time thought to be useful in extending the life of leather bindings, but experience has shown it only to be cosmetic. Leather dressing should only really be applied by someone with professional expertise on new and non-decayed leathers, in good condition, otherwise it is likely to cause more harm than good.

Research has shown that leather dressings can cause leather to dry out over time, leading to stiffness and darkening or staining of the surface.

If too much is applied too frequently, the surface becomes sticky, attracting dust. It can migrate to the text block, staining and deteriorating the paper. One of the biggest problems is that in the past leather dressings have been used too much.

If a leather book has become stiffened through the use of leather dressing, proper handling techniques and support of the book structure will help to ameliorate the problem.

If you want to use a leather dressing try to avoid those containing a solvent.

For protective handling purposes polyester film dust jackets (see How do I find conservation materials?) can be made to help prevent dry rotted leather from offsetting onto adjacent books and from further deterioration.

Consolidants can be applied by a professional conservator to bind dry rotted leather.

Red rot is not contagious. It it not a fungus but a chemical breakdown of the proteins in the leather so that they eventually crumble.

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