London’s Chelsea Bindery Celebrates 20 Years

Courtesy of Peter Harrington

A sophisticated jeweled binding of a first edition of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958) priced at £2,750.

Though launched in 2000, the staff at London's Chelsea Bindery participate in the tradition of fine leather book binding that goes back centuries. This month the bindery celebrates twenty years in business with a catalogue showcasing 170 pieces highlighting the bespoke techniques and skill involved in creating leather bound works of art. 

“These bindings are really individual works of art – the process of cleaning, sewing, fixing endpapers, head banding, gilding and working with illustrators to design one-of-a-kind cover art takes many hours and requires the use of specialized vintage machines that are rarely found in working condition," said Pom Harrington, proprietor of the Chelsea Bindery and the greater Peter Harrington Rare Books empire. "Finding skilled bookbinders who know how to operate them can be even rarer! At the Chelsea Bindery we have an intertype machine that belonged to the legendary Zaehnsdorf Bindery and is almost 90 years old. To our knowledge it is the only machine of its type in regular use in the London area.”

The Chelsea Bindery operates exclusively for Peter Harrington out of a 2,000-square-foot workshop in the London suburb of Battersea, where bookbinders focus on special projects for Harrington customers, including gilt lettering, rebinding, preservation boxes, and restoration. Approximately 150 books pass through the shop every year. 

“The nostalgic element of having a finely bound leather book never seems to lose its appeal among bibliophiles, and fine leather bindings occupy a very special place in the rare book world,” noted Harrington. 

Among the highlights in the bindery's birthday celebration catalogue include a first edition of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s with delicate diamond cover details, hand-bound in rose-pink and black morocco leather and featuring Audrey Hepburn in silhouette, posing in her black Givenchy dress with a cigarette dangling from her hand. Its price? £2,750. There are also unique bound editions of A. A. Milne, Lewis Carroll, Frank L. Baum, and J. D. Salinger.

“Fine leather binding is very labour intensive, which means few businesses are willing to invest in the time and skills it requires to create these beautiful books. At the Chelsea Bindery we do it because our customers still love finely bound books. We believe keeping the craft alive is worth the effort and will allow future generations to enjoy that special atmosphere of retiring to a library or reading corner with a beautiful book, whose binding tells as much of a story as its pages,” said Harrington.