Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Bookbinder

In his later years, my grandfather made his living as a legal bookbinder. Based in Maryland, where my grandmother held a steady job at the Pentagon, he traveled up and down the east coast repairing the libraries of his clients. As a child, I had no conception of what he did; I was always just happy to see him on those nights when our house in New Jersey was a way station for him.

Even now, I don't really know what the job actually entailed. I picture him at a highly polished table in a room lined with dark wooden bookshelves, a stack of broken and tattered books before him. Did he use tape? A needle and thread? How about a bone folder? Were there ever volumes that were too worn too repair? How often did he return to a particular client?

I think of him every time a student brings a damaged trade book, notebook, or binder to my desk. Assessing the extent of the injury, I grab one of the many rolls of duct or packing tape I always seem to have on hand, and mend the volume as best I can.

Although the books are hardly as good as new, in general, the kids are amazed by my deft repairs, and they walk away satisfied customers, which pleases me, too.


  1. Book binding is such a fine craft, an art, really. I dabbled in it awhile. Love the tools. Love the image of your grandfather taking care of books so they can be enjoyed longer.

  2. I took a class once. I learned to make hand made books, but what your grandfather did was a real art.

  3. I can only hope this job is still necessary in the world today. Long live books that we handle so much that the bindings come loose.