The craft of a leather bookbinder is something like an answer to a riddle: Who stitches up the loose ends? Now limited to a handful of practitioners in Old Delhi, Kolkata, and Hyderabad, the craft involves sewing the pages of a book, creating a cover by pasting soft goat leather or sheep leather on cardboard, and embossing the title and the embellishments on the cover and the spine using gold leaf. It’s painstaking work, demanding dexterity and patience. Depending on the size of the book and the intricacy of the design, it takes anything from four days to three months to bind a book.
The costs vary accordingly, from Rs 200 to Rs 1.5 lakh. Costs go up even more if real gold is used in embossing. Ahmed Agha, a third-generation book binder in Daryaganj, is sought after to create exclusive editions of hand-calligraphed Qurans. Museums and private collectors also want bookbinders when they want to restore books or create custom covers. It speaks volumes for this skill that it is much in demand in the luxury space, where craftspeople create monogrammed custom leather accessories, leather frames, portfolio cases, and the like.