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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The "The Ancient Art Of Bookbinding" Story

Water Street Bindery
It was an ordinary day.  Knocked on the old blue door that sits under the historical sign that tells of the one and a half story house that demonstrates the architecture during the period of early settlement of Lancaster which dates from 1730.  The doorknob is a round brass sphere with a small brass shield over a keyhole to the left of the knob.  On the side of the home, high above the alleyway, is a sign that states "Water Street Bindery".  House caught my eye as I walked past, since I recently talked to the President of the Ephrata National Bank who told me the Water Street Bindery rebound the Santa book that is kept in the safe of the bank when it is not being signed by generations of children who made visits to Santa and signed the book telling of their love of Santa and what they wanted for Christmas.  
Tony preparing a piece of leather for
one of his restorations.
Lost yet?
  Well, I just had to stop in the bindery to find out what they do in this neat little old house on Water Street in the historic city of Lancaster, PA.  Knocked a few times until a young woman opened the door and asked if she could help me.  I entered the shop and was greeted with memories from the past.  By now, many of you probably know that I taught Graphic Arts in high school and part of my curriculum was a section on bookbinding.  There, sitting in front of me in the center of the small room, was a small guillotine paper cutter which at the moment was serving as a coat rack.  Looked much like the one I have in my garage I use for trimming jobs I still print for the high school where I taught.  The young woman, Anna, had taken her seat by a window and continued with her preparation of twine that she would use on the spine of a book she was working on at the time.  
Guillotine paper cutter disguised as
a clothes tree.  
I walked into the next room to meet Tony, the owner of the bindery.  Tony has been in the bindery business for 40 years and the owner of the Water Street Bindery for 30 years.  It is obvious the skill he possesses just by watching him at his trade.  I stood next to him as he worked on a piece of leather that he was scraping to reduce the thickness of the leather at certain areas in order to be able to shape it to the back or spine of a book he was working on.  At the time, he and his daughter Anna were rebinding a 27 volume collection of small books, that were an early edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, for a collector who lived in San Francisco, California.  Tony and I talked about some of the binding procedures that he uses that have been used for ages as well as used by me in my classes I taught.  
Part of a set of Encyclopedia Britannica books that
have been rebound at the Water Street Bindery.
The shop was filled with an assortment of old binding tools and book presses as well as quite a few beautifully bound books.  I loved everything about the old house on Water Street, but knew it was time to leave and allow my hosts for the past half hour a chance to perform their skilled art of bookbinding.  
Anna prepares cords to be used on the spines of the books.
Oh yeah, Tony also remembered working on the book that had been signed for ages by young children who had made their way to visit with Santa in Ephrata and tell the jolly old guy what they wanted for Christmas.  As for me, I find that as I write stories for my blog, I meet some of the most interesting people who love to share their life's experiences and occupations with me.  I in turn have gained a great understanding of the people who, along with me, call Lancaster home. It's a wonderful city!  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy. 

Book press holding a set of backing boards which are used to form and round the back of a book.
One of many beautifully bound books that are found throughout the bindery.
The front door is a good display of the architecture throughout the homes on Water Street in Lancaster, PA
Anna works on the spine of one of the books in the Encyclopedia Britannia collection.  It is being held in the book press illustrated in an above photograph.


  1. Tony & I used to run together decades ago.

  2. Tony is a really interesting person. Enjoyed my visit with him. A great craftsman!