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Deluxe Leather

S. Levi

Pesach is a popular time for giving gifts — doesn’t everyone deserve one after all that hard work? — and leather-bound siddurim and other seforim are a popular choice. How are they produced?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

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E veryone is ultra-busy these days — cleaning, shopping, cooking, and otherwise getting ready for Pesach. This week we’ll be checking out Deluxe Leather in Givat Shaul, Jerusalem, where preparations are also in high gear.

Pesach is a popular time for giving gifts — doesn’t everyone deserve one after all that hard work? — and it’s so nice to have something you don’t have to clean for Pesach before use! Deluxe Leather is where seforim and other items are skillfully created and bound in rich, quality leather.

As soon as I walk in, I feel a sense of purpose in the air. Everybody is bustling about, busy with their jobs, taking time out to answer me if I have a question, and then immediately going back to work. Deluxe Leather is both a highly efficient workplace in which hundreds of seforim are bound daily, and a place where your individual needs are given full attention even if you only have one siddur to be bound.

I see a pile of siddurim on a table in the corner, all of them missing their covers. By the time they’ve gone through the Deluxe process, they’ll be wearing beautiful leather covers, in any of 15 different colors.

Mr. Naftali Wolf, owner of Deluxe Leather, who learns in the mornings and works here in the afternoons, directs me to where the first step of the leather binding process takes place — a big, wide table where the leather is cut. I see dozens of swathes of leather, and he tells me they come from cows, buffalo, sheep, and goats.

The leather feels smooth, pliable, and soft. I watch as he measures a piece with expert precision and then neatly slices it with the safety-controlled guillotine machine. I expect to see him wrapping it around a sefer now… but no, not just yet.

In a process called skiving, the leather is spliced in half since even at 1 mm thick, it’s too thick (!) to be folded over. The leather is folded over a precut, hard piece of board and glued with glue spray. Then the spine and front and back cover of the book are pattern-embossed with metal plates.

 

How is a plate made? The platemaker takes a metal alloy (a mix of metals, in this case mostly magnesium) and prints a type of photograph of the design, called a negative, on it. He then coats the negative with a red chemical and immerses the plate in an acid bath, which eats away at the plate. Whatever is protected by the red chemical doesn’t get eaten, so the design or lettering stays popped up.

A wide range of embossing design plates — Moroccan, chassidic, antique, traditional, trendy, etc. — are stowed in these drawers.

“We once had a mossad ask us to create a plate of their rav’s signature,” Mr. Wolf recalls. “The signature was then embossed on a sefer. It made for a beautiful gift!”

In some cases, the client’s name is also embossed with a custom-made plate. The plates are kept in case the client wants to later emboss another sefer with the same name. This happens fairly often, although, interestingly enough, “we’ve never had two people — even cousins — with the exact same name, spell it the exact same way! One Menachem Mendel Cohen will spell his name with an ayin in the Mendel, one without the ayin. Same with Moshe Gluck or Yehuda Schreiber; there are so many ways of spelling the same name. And yet, in the ten years since I’ve been in the business, I haven’t thrown out a single nameplate, because you never know…”

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