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Why A Museum to American Bookbinding?

The American Bookbinder’s Museum

There is nothing quite like the feeling of an old book in your hands, the smell of the yellowed pages hitting you as you open it.  As you get comfortable and settle in to spending some time with this remarkable object, you may wonder at how it was constructed, but most likely you’ll be absorbed by the content of the book, unaware of the form it takes.  This is what makes books remarkable; they are so intrinsic to our understanding of civilization that we do not often pause to think about how they are made, the amount of labor and toil that brought us to the modern book, or the bookbinders who manufacture them.  The American Bookbinder’s Museums seeks to shine a spotlight on this important part of our world.  Our vision is to provide a complete experience of bookbinding history, craft and culture by creating a fully functional nineteenth century bookbindery.

With the ascension of digital information technologies, we are facing the possibility of the book’s disappearance as a physical object.  With the mechanization of most bookbinding processes, the original machinery and tools are quickly being replaced and discarded.  It is essential that we collect and preserve important artifacts of this tradition, as well as maintain and utilize them so the knowledge of their function is not lost.


Above: Board Shear (photo by Dan Goldberg)

Founder Tim James has amassed an impressive collection of equipment as well as a comprehensive archive that is now housed at our new location in the heart of the museum district in San Francisco.  Our library will include a variety of collections ranging from Bookbinder manuals and catalogues to Oral histories of bookbinders and samples of decorative materials.  Our hope is to share this amazing resource with our community and create new content and research topics.  We want to delve into the many facets of this complex tradition, and allow people to explore their particular interests, as there are numerous steps and intricacies to the craft.  The exhibits are experiential; a visitor will be able to see a book being made from start to finish as well as tools, processes, and ephemera that surround the manufacture of books.

Our goal is to create a community around this endeavor, to celebrate the creation of books and the craft of bookbinding.  Our volunteer base will be the driving force of activity in the museum.  So far we are focusing on content development for weekly newsletters and images that will be posted here on our blog.  Each topic will highlight a different facet of the museum; sharing ephemera, oral histories, our construction timeline, and volunteer updates are just a few examples of what you will see.  Volunteers will also learn how to bind a book from start to finish so that a full example of the process can be incorporated into the various museum tours.


Above: Guillotine (photo by Dan Goldberg)

2032 marks the 400th Anniversary of bookbinding in America.  What better way to celebrate this milestone than to revive the tradition in San Francisco, where printing and bookbinding have thrived, and continue to be a major part of what makes this city so spectacular. I would like to invite anyone who is interested in this topic to reach out and get involved with this exciting endeavor! (visit our About page for contact information)  Prior knowledge of bookbinding and printing history/ practice is not a requirement, as we hope to provide the opportunity for people to conduct their own research, and utilize this unique resource.

By Alexandra Jane Williams, Volunteer Coordinator, The American Bookbinders Museum