I love to read and have amassed quite a few books over my lifetime. However, the commercial look of modern books can’t compare to lavishly decorated books of the past. While looking for a way to dress up some of my bookshelves (and being rather shocked at antique book prices), I ran across more recently produced books that fit my criteria and budget. From 1973 until 2000, the Franklin Library produced highly detailed, museum quality books. They primarily reprinted classics, but they also produced a line of select contemporary books as well. The books were sold in a subscription format, one book mailed each month, with subscriptions in tiered quality levels. The three types are shown below, increasing in quality from left to right. On the left is a cloth covered book described as “Leatherette”. The gold embossing on the leatherette books is somewhat poor – lacking the sharpness of the embossing on the other two book types. The middle book, called “1/4 Leather”, has an actual leather spine covering with the front and back covers finished in leatherette fabric. The book on the right is “Fully Leather Bound”. Note that the 1/4 leather and full leather books have an attached bookmark ribbon whereas the leatherette does not.
As shown below in the middle, the 1/4 leather book, which originally costed less than a fully leather bound book, has the benefit of looking like a full leather book when only the spine is viewed. While all three binding types have ribbed spines, the remainder of the leatherette spine is flat, making it visibly different than rounded spines of its counterparts when viewed side by side.
All three types of books have gold colored page edges which supposedly protects the paper from moisture damage. The leatherette, 1/4 leather, and some full leather books have marbled end papers.
However, the majority of the full leather books have robust silk fabric end papers. Be aware that this fabric can discolor over time, so inspect this area prior to purchase. Also note that the gold embossing on the leather continues around the perimeter of the silk end paper on this particular full leather edition. As shown below, this is a beautiful detail that is not present on all of the full leather volumes.
Despite all of these features and the limited production run of these volumes, the current prices are very low (and amazingly many of these books were either left in the original packaging or placed on a shelf unopened and unread). These “new” books (all three quality types) are selling for $10-$30 on eBay which is roughly the same price originally paid by the Franklin Library subscribers not accounting for inflation. Regardless of the type of book you choose, leatherette, 1/4 leather, or full leather, this is a cost effective way to add beautiful books to your collection.