Bookbinding in the Digital Age: an interview with Michael Greer


27 Responses to “Bookbinding in the Digital Age: an interview with Michael Greer”

  1. Interesting. I’ve actually wanted to learn bookbinding myself, but i never know where to start so i end up forgetting about it. Every now and then i see a nice book and i wish i could learn it again. I do personally think that the craft itself is very important and still has a firm place, even within a digital age.

  2. vivienfrance says:

    I’m an aspiring bookbinder as well. I’ll be doing a week-long workshop in Paris next week and if that goes well I’m planning on signing up for a two year course. As much as I’d love to go the pure apprentice route (which actually does still exist in France), it’s difficult for adults to become an apprentice and I will at least end up with a diploma at the end of the course (it’s difficult for anyone to take you seriously in France if you don’t have a diploma, and a French one at that!). Like Mr Greer, I’ve been obsessed with books all of my life but it was only recently that I realized that bookbinding is what I’m “supposed” to be doing. As I tell my friends and family now, it’s what I’ve always wanted to do, only I didn’t know it. Thanks for the great interview!

  3. doggo says:

    I worked in a bindery for while when I was younger. The work was very satisfying. I’d love to get back into it, but I’d need space, and tools, though I do have my bone folder and steel rule. The things that are crucial for me is the tools. I learned using a big steel backing press (I’ve rounded and backed books over 4 inches thick). 

    Most of the binding we did was legal documents. You know those cases full of books you see in lawyers’ offices? Those. Each person involved in a case gets a copy of all the documents in a bound volume.

    Rounding and backing, and casing-in were my favorites. Hotstamping and making cases were, I think, the hardest operations.

    I’m thinking seriously of getting myself a Bindery In A Box But those presses look so wimpy compared to what I’m used to: &

    • Colin Urbina says:

      The Bindery in a Box actually does pretty well for a hobbyist or just starting out.  If you’re not doing edition work and just taking one book all the way through from start to finish, it’s awesome.  The wooden press won’t get the same pressure as a big metal standing press, but realistically you’re not going to need that much pressure anyway unless you’re doing a leather reback or something like that.

      As far as the job backer, the jaws on the bindery in a box work fine.  A lot of binders will just use a lying press and replaceable jaws instead of the piece of furniture that is an iron job backer.
      I’ve seen Dea Sasso use the plough on that thing, and she should be a traveling show, because she can go at warp speed on it.  Sharp and fast. 

  4. Haakon IV says:

    Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

    I see what you did there.

  5. Ben Harris says:

    My brother is a bookbinder and always restores any old books we have. We’ve got a healthy collection of restored books on the shelf now :D

  6. doco says:

    I have at least one book I want rebound and a pile of paper I would love to have bound into a book.  How can I best find a book binder that does this kind of work?  I know I can find binders in the yellow-pages, but they seem to be all big operations that target libraries wanting to rebind a box of books with utilitarian covers.

    • Colin Urbina says:

      If you’re looking for a local binder, try and go to “book arts links” in the upper left.  You’ll see “bookbinders and book artists” there, which will take you to a page of links to binder’s websites.  There’s a lot there and if you start asking around and describe the type of job you’re looking to have done s/he will most likely refer you to a binder who does that kind of work. 

  7. opmaroon says:

    For one-offs look for restorers like these guys – I’ve had a few bespoke french-fold books made and they are most excellent.

  8. Blue Funnies says:

    “Wretched sinner unit! The path to Robot Heaven lies here, in the Good Book 3.0!”

  9. erin jones says:

    Many, many thanks for creating and publishing this interview! Had I lived in an earlier non-digital age, bookbinding or book design would be two of the professions I’d most like to devote my life to.

    I too love working with my hands to create. So many creative vocations allowed us to use our hands and to work directly with our tools and mediums. Working in that manner, we enjoyed a tactile and frequently all-consuming practice. That daily practice by its nature often made working a moving mediation. As such, it was extremely pleasurable and incredibly rewarding. It’s wonderful to devote ones’ energy to an art that can entirely consume you, engaging you so deeply that the world becomes silent or disappears.Today, I spent what I thought was two or three hours working on an illustration that’s dense, challenging and extremely satisfying. When I finally looked at the clock, ah!… 8 hours had passed. Eight hours of losing myself in intense, satisfying work*. I loved this interview and one of my favorite quotes was: “I’m a guy who loves books. […] I like getting into the heavy stuff. […] But I also like working with my hands and that’s why being a bookbinder just seems to fit. It seems like such a rarity nowadays-the possibility to work with one’s hands. Especially to create something from start to finish. And then when that something happens to be the text of a really good book, it just works.”

    I share those passions. I’m also of the opinion that our current world offers few opportunities to create in an immediately tactile manner. It’s a shame. But this interview was fascinating and a joy to read. Thank you , Michael Greer for practicing your craft and sharing your ideas with us. And kudos to Avi Solomon for the interview, which was inspiring and educational.

  10. Jim Downey says:

    Interesting interview. I’ve been a bookbinder and book conservator for some 20 years, after five years of training at the Iowa Center for the Book. I would encourage Mr. Greer to consider more archival options for his materials (based on the interview – he may have been using imprecise terms for a lay audience.) My work has previously been featured on BB, and images can be seen on my site:

    Those looking for a binder/conservator should also consult

  11. zikman says:

    Awesome interview. I’m a hobbyist bookbinder, but I wish I could do it more full time. I took a short course on bookbinding at a local arts center last summer and I’ve been making one-offs ever since then. The course taught non-adhesive bindings only, so it was a little different than typical binding methods. The exposed bindings look really nice though. I work mostly with leather now.

  12. bardfinn says:

    For the curious: ASCII encoding (as opposed to, say, EBCDIC). The giveaway is the high quantity of “01000000″ pattern in byte-alignment: the SPACE character. The page pictured is Genesis 2 in English.

    An interesting response would be Genesis in binary print of the Hebrew Genesis encoded in Unicode.

  13. CharredBarn says:


    (can be translated here: )

  14. binder says:

    Mr. Downey, I assure you I do use archival materials and am a bit perplexed at your assumption that I do not. Regards. 

    • Jim Downey says:

      I based my comment on this passage from the article: “Heavy carton is cut to size and lined with newspaper on the inside…” 

      Standard newspaper and common pressboard are not archival.  Placing a barrier between them and the text block will help, but acid (from manufacturing and secondary contamination due to lignen breakdown) will migrate.  Davey and pH-balanced bookboard are more common for archival work, as well as acid-free liners and other materials.

      Lots of artists make intelligent/informed decisions about materials which aren’t archival. And likewise, if you just didn’t want to get into that level of detail in discussing the matter with the interviewer, I don’t blame you. I have found over the years that these sorts of things get lost in reportage.

      But since conservation of rare books and documents is my business, I try to encourage others to take these factors into consideration. Work as beautiful as yours deserves to last. No offense was intended, just education. If you’re using archival materials, good for you – I wish more people took this into consideration.


  15. CP-S says:

    Wow, this is great! As someone who has finally realized that I need to work with my hands for a living, I am thrilled to read this interview; it’s inspirational to read about others’ paths to doing work by hand.

    Oh, and: who did the calligraphy/printing on the Binary Bible?

  16. Jeff says:

    I walk past a bookbinder’s shop on my way home from work. I take the long way home because I enjoy a bunch of things I see on the way, especially the bookbinder’s shop. I never see anyone inside, and I was imagining that a retired guy keeps it because he can’t bear to close it. But one day I saw a 50-ish woman in the shop, and I wanted to much to go in and talk to her, but I was in  ahurry to get home. I’ve never seen anyone in the shop again. Perhaps there’s a lesson in that for me…

    If anyone is looking for a book binder in Lausanne, it’s sous-gare, near Closelet bus stop.

  17. memiou says:

    I’d like to mention a bookbinder in Mentone, CA for those in Southern California. I asked the owner, not long ago, if he took on apprentices but he did not.

    The shop is full of beautiful, old equipment and he showed me some of the papers he used. I got the impression the shop wouldn’t be there forever since he was close to retirement age and seemed surprised when I asked about apprenticing.

    Anyway, while I can’t vouch for the work, I wanted to pass this along in case anyone in the area needed a book rebound (or wanted to see an actual bookbinder’s shop!).

  18. binder says:

    Ah, thanks for clearing that up. You were right about not wanting to get into too much detail. In this interview I just wanted to help people imagine the process with things they know and could relate too. And indeed historically, newspaper was often used to line boards.  But, as you point out, standard newsprint is quite acidic. Like you I use acid-free boards and a buffered “newsprint”.

     That being said, for those interested in experimenting with bookmaking, use what you have at hand and know the joy of making something. 

  19. Kerri Harding says:

    Nice interview. I’m always thrilled to see posts about printing and binding. The book of Genesis in binary is such a clever idea that I’m jealous I didn’t think of it first.

  20. ModernKids says:

    My parents own a bookbindery in Pennsylvania and it’s been in our family for sixty years. The last five years have really changed for my them. I wish the on-demand publishing world involved more binderies but unfortunately it’s primarily printers using machines to do terrible bindings that fall apart. I used to work for a start-up in the on-demand world (based in San Francisco). It was heartening to know that so many people wanted to make physical books but it was disturbing to see how readily the books failed because of poor binding. Books are still an important technology that can’t always be beat. I just hope that the quality of books remains and we don’t move towards books that last, ‘temporarily’.

  21. happyslacks says:

    It’s so wonderful to read your interview! I did a formal apprenticeship in bookbinding and restoration in Montreal years ago and fell in love with the entire culture. There is something very magical about creating these vessels that embark on journeys to parts unknown… carrying stories and collecting the marks of their passage, which in turn become stories in themselves.

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