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Binding J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit

I present you one of the most beautiful books ever made in my bindery, created in collaboration with Mia Heath (The Book Minder).

Reading the Hobbit

Before talking about how the The Hobbit was bound, I believe it’s important to share with you why this book is very important and deeply personal to me…

When I was 11 years old an uncle and aunt came to visit. Not knowing what to bring as a gift they had visited a bookshop and asked the bookseller to recommend something for a child of said age. “You know… I have just the thing, he’ll love it!” said he – and gave them the Hobbit.
A lifetime later I still feel grateful to that person…

Upon reading the Hobbit something clicked in me. What was a vague fondness for a number of things began to acquire form, to move in a certain direction. It acted as a spark for my imagination and creativity.
I honestly don’t know if I’d be the same person had I not read Tolkien’s books, or if I did so many years later. That’s how great an impact his work had on me.

Designing The Hobbit

I had been waiting for ages for someone to commission a very special leather binding of the Hobbit and Miss K. became that person.
She intended it as a gift for her husband on whom, like me, Tolkien’s works have had a significant impact, but also for her newborn girl. She wanted “to provide him with something special to share between them”. Isn’t that a deeply sweet thought? Truly, I cannot think of a better reason behind a gift…

With that mind, and knowing how this book has shaped me, I wanted to go the extra mile and create something really special, in the hopes that it will become one of her daughter’s most cherished books and, perhaps, a defining one as well.

The binding was to revolve around 3 elements: the round door, the autumn colors and the leaves carried by the wind, which has become a recurring theme -not always with leaves- across some of my bindings.

A lot of it is also structured around vegetation, whether that is the leaves, or the edge coloring with its many shades of green, or the marbled papers in “thistle” pattern. Hobbits, as every decent and well-informed person knows, love things that grow. They are fond of gardening and enjoy long walks in the countryside and Bilbo Baggins, the story’s protagonist, is no exception. Nature however is not without its perilous side and Bilbo will find himself in dark spider-infested forests during his journey too.

Mia, who is also a big Tolkien fan, came up with the beautiful design based on the concepts described earlier, and patiently painted it, a process that involved many days of work from initial sketches to finished decoration.

Binding The Hobbit

Painting and Edge Coloring

Although the decoration could be painted directly on the leather it would eventually wear off through use and friction. I created a tool set with leaves and acorns in different sizes, even made a custom tool just for the dragon’s eye, and then tooled the entire design. This way even the smallest painted detail sits well protected in an impression below the binding’s surface.

The edge coloring proved to be quite a challenge, as it was a new skill for the both of us. We did a great many tests until we managed to get it right: I would prepare the edges by sanding them to a very smooth finish and then Mia would do the painting. For quite a while the results had a number of flaws, such as spots flaking off, colors not showing properly or pages stuck together. After dozens of tests on books I keep around for this purpose we were able to nail it.
The result is an edge with patches in various shades of green that is looking at a forest canopy – the photos really don’t do it justice.

It couldn’t have been achieved without the help of Glenn Malkin who has made an excellent video illustrating this technique and also kindly answered some extra questions we had. Make sure to check his channel as he has some quite a few instructional videos I’m sure binders of any level will find interesting.

Tactility of the Binding

One of the things I try to take into consideration, when the project allows for it, is the tactility of a binding. Bindings are 3d objects we hold in our hands but often a lot of thought goes into how they look instead and not in how they “feel”.

This is a book that will be read and thus handled countless times, as opposed to a decorative piece that will be taken from it’s shelf/case 2-3 times in a lifetime, so I wanted it to feel special and have a tactile quality to it.

With that in mind I chose a leather with rather rough grain from Harmatan, even though they offer it in fine grain as well. Apart from beautiful to the touch it also underlines that this is a tale of old that speaks of wizards and dragons and magic rings. Another such element are the thick boards, smoothly rounded at the edges, which create the impressions of a hefty volume, as you’d expect from one that tells of such tales and is expected to be a heirloom piece, lasting many lifetimes. Last but not least, my overspending for weird papers has proven useful, as proven by the heavily textured paper used for the door that looks remarkably like wood, especially once colored and lacquered.

The Bag End’s Door

The door (painted by Olga Kotsirea) and is in many ways the centerpiece of the binding. Apart from being iconic, it represents Bilbo’s safe and cozy home, in stark contrast with all the unpleasantries he faces during his journey.

To enhance its display I created a recess on the front cover for the door to sit in, creating the illusion of depth.
Another additional detail that hardcore fans might have already observed are the runes, inscribed by Gandalf: instead of the most commonly depicted single rune we chose to go for the ones seen in a drawing by Tolkien himself: B, D and R, which stand for Burglar, Danger and Reward (in the form of a diamond).

The Hobbit’s Maps

A lot of attention has gone into every little detail of this binding, and one such important detail is the maps.
They were printed as the endpapers of the original edition I used for this binding which prohibited their re-use for various reasons and so I had to make new ones. I went in expecting it to be fairly simple to find ultra hi-resolution of Thror’s and Wilderland maps, especially given how easy it was when I was making the Silmarillion some years ago. Alas it was rather difficult and then had to spent a fair amount of time editing them, to make them clearer and sharper and for the colors to pop more, sometimes going over tiny letters one by one. For what’s more they are printed on an expensive cotton paper that can be found only in one place in Athens, which happens to be very far away from the bindery. But it was worth the trouble as I wanted the maps to feel as real as possible, to have texture and be exciting to look at.

The binding comes in a custom handmade slipcase that will keep it well protected. I really like how the exposed spine teases the viewer who is then offered a treat when pulling the binding and revealing the covers. As an additional touch, the slipcase’s spine features a snake-skin patterned leather in autumn red.

The lovely marbled papers used for the binding and the slipcase were custom made for this project by Papiers Prina. I wanted a paper that would resemble thick vegetation with copper/autumn accents to fit in with the rest of the binding, and Daniela was -once more- able to deliver!

Photos of the binding were taken by Maria Siorba, with whom I’ve happily collaborated on numerous occasions.

Bookbinding Tools used in binding The Hobbit

If you’re a bookbinder, novice or professional, you might be interested to know I’ve used my Stylus Set, Dot Set and Versatile Typeholder for the decoration of this binding, all of which you can acquire by sending me a message at koutsipetsidis@gmail.com or by visiting my Etsy shop.
You can also see all of my available tools here.