The old-world craft has made a comeback. Here’s the scoop on New York’s best bespoke bookbinderies.
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Even before e-readers and tablets started making books obsolete, few dared attempt to master the art of bookbinding. The labor-intensive trade involves everything from knife sharpening to goatskin stretching to gilding, and most of it’s done with primitive tools. There’s a permanence to a well-bound book—perhaps because of the rise of e-reading, the value of master bookbinders is greater than ever. Call them renaissance men: These New York binders will restore rare books, create leather cases to protect important tomes, and bind just about anything else you want to look dignified.
After watching old-world craftsmanship strengthen its foothold in the New York cultural scene in recent years, Paul Vogel decided to open a new atelier in Assouline’s flagship boutique at the Plaza Hotel. He started his bookbindery in the city more than 30 years ago but later moved it to the Hamptons and has spent the better part of his career out there.
Vogel discovered his love for rare books as a design student at the Pratt Institute. He spent several years in the U.K., where bookbinding is still common and where he began studying the craft. His style straddles the traditional and the whimsical, but his clientele of great collectors leans toward the former. Much of his work is in leather, and he specializes in protective cases for rare books whose values would diminish if they were rebound. He is also an innovator and an artist, and has gone so far as to use circa 1940s silver movie screens for the cover of a book for a showbiz client.
“It’s amazing to get these old books that I wouldn’t ever get to touch and being able to look at them at my leisure,” he says.
Vogel runs the business with his wife from their East Hampton home. He comes to New York once a week to meet with clients, hand deliver books, and give basic demos on binding. The turnaround for a custom project is typically six to 10 weeks, and prices range from $250, for a basic cloth-bound book, to north of $5,000.
Also launched in Manhattan and then transplanted east, this Brooklyn shop was New York’s only walk-in bookbinder in 2005. Owner Gavin Dovey, a Briton, says the trade is a labor of love for him, and one he’s nurtured since he first learned the basics in England.
“The short story is that I dropped out of university,” says Dovey. “The long story is that I was studying literature at a 900-year-old university, where I spent most of my time in the library, and became enamored of old books. So I went looking through the yellow pages for bookbinder. I called one and then signed on with him for an apprenticeship.”
Along with two other binders, Dovey brings an inimitable attention to detail to his work. (“It’s never enough for me,” he says. “Sometimes I go back and redo them later because I want them to be perfect.”) And although, unlike Vogel, he doesn’t have a fine-art background, he infuses all of his projects with imagination and a visually obvious passion. It’s no surprise that one serious collector has hired him for the six-year-job of binding his entire private library.
Turnaround varies from one day to a year, and prices start at about $100 and range up into the thousands.
Paul Vogel: East Hampton, 631.329.3106; Assouline at The Plaza (Manhattan), 768 5th Avenue, lobby mezzanine, 212.593.7236 Paper Dragon: 330 Morgan Avenue, Suite 301, Brooklyn, 646.633.7179