American Book Bindery Building

I noticed this building when walking down 9th Ave. at 30th St. in New York City.  Another blog, Fading Ad Blog by Frank H. Jump also has a couple of pictures of a different side of the building, with the left and right sides of text under the top reversed. Under the top sign,  it reads “The Stratford Press” on the left and “The American Book Bindery” on the right.  I can’t make out the sign on the very bottom, in a smaller font “Book… xxxxxxxx”

I intend to find out some more information about this building, but for now it serves as a reminder of the prestige and money that the press, bookbindery, and publisher once had.

On November 13,2008, Matthew Murphy sent me the following information. Thanks Matt!

A History of Book publishing in the United States / by John Tebbel. New York : R.R. Bowker Co., 1972-1981 [4 volumes]:
“The experiences of one well-known plant, American Book-Stratford Press, illustrates the kind of expansion that was occurring. The founder, Louis Satenstein, had come to the United States from Russia in 1889, and in ten years was the owner of a small shop, the American Book Bindery, which he soon combined with the Stratford Press. In the resulting rapid expansion, his three sons came to run the business– Sidney, Edward S., and Frank. Louis himself died in 1947, at 72.
Three years after his death, the company bought the Cornwall Press and Bindery, and then in the same year, the Knickerbocker Printing Corporation, an acquisition that was the largest in American bookmaking history at the time. Knickerbocker had been the property of the Putnam Family, begun and directed by George Putnam’s father, Bishop Putnam. Moved to New Rochelle in 1891, the plant was the victim of waste and bad management decisions, although it set high standards for the industry, and in 1930, Putnam sold its interests. It became American Book-Knickerbocker Press in 1950, with Sidney Satenstein as president, and his brother Edward as Vice President and treasurer.
By 1959, it was turning out 100,000 books a day, and by 1963, having reverted to its former title, American Book-Stratford Press, the organization was employing more than 1,600 employees in seven plants who were producing nearly 150,000 hardcover books every day. In 1967, the company built entirely new facilities, including a modern bindery, at Saddle Brook, New Jersey. One of its four bindery lines could make 6,000 books per hour, perfect-bound, soft- or hardcovered. That made it one of the largest book manufacturing plants in the world …” Volume IV, p. 455-456.

“One major manufacturer that found itself in trouble and skillfully climbed out of it was American Book-Stratford Press. In 1968 the family-controlled Manhattan firm had bought a neighboring company, H. Wolff Book Manufacturing Co., which had run out of family members who could carry it on. AB-SP made further acquisitions, and in the boom period was working hard to expand its services. When the market softened, in the early seventies, and costs increased, the firm suffered losses. It was able, however, to employ a bankruptcy procedure that permitted management itself to reorganize and arrange settlements. Accordingly, the firm dropped some nonmanufacting activities; the staff cut their own budgets; publishers cooperated by maintaining their orders; debts were paid; and–the major theraputic step–the firm consolidated all of its production work into its Saddle Brook, New Jersey plant,  …” Volume IV, p. 460-461.

 

So it appears likely the building at 406 W. 31st St. was one of those plants that might have been sold off in the 1970’s… It was, according to the Department of Buildings (via PropertyShark) built in 1914, and altered in 1983 to suit it’s current uses.
The American Book-Stratford Press is still extant, and have offices at 302 5th Ave. here in Manhattan, with their manufacturing plant still at 95 Mayhill St., in Saddle Brook, NJ. (according to Google Maps.)

27 thoughts on “American Book Bindery Building

  1. Matt M.

    Jeff, what is the exact address? I am a librarian at the New-York Historical Society and I can probably dig up some info… drop me an email when you have the chance.

    -Matt.

  2. linda

    My mother worked in the factory in Saddle Brook as a picker and packer. I didn’t realize it must have been a fairly new building at the time. It was somewhere around 1968-70 when she started. I didn’t know it was still in business!

  3. Pingback: american book bindery building, part 2 « jeff peachey

  4. RON GESCHWINDNER

    i worked at the Saddle Brook plant of AB-SP the plant has bee closed for some 30 years
    i am pretty sure they went out of business

  5. Heather R.

    I am a direct desendant of Lou Satenstein and Edward Satenstein. What exactly would you like to know about American Book/Strattford Press? This was way cool to see here..my sister actually forwarded it to me. suprising as there isn’t a lot of info available via the web.

  6. Jeff Peachey Post author

    I guess I was generally curious about the building itself, how it was organized, how many employees, what type of binding was done, what type of machines they had, what publishers they worked for, etc. I realize it is a bit obnoxious to ask such broad questions, but even a somewhat basic reference book, Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt’s The Book in America only mentions that it was founded in the 1890’s. Thanks, Jeff

  7. Stanley Greenberg

    It would also be great to know why the back of the building has such a strange shape.

  8. John Sanderson

    I was the last of my family to work at AB-SP. Drop me a line and I’ll be happy to fill you in on whatever you want to know about the grand old place. Sadly, it’s been out of business since 1982.

  9. Dave Festa

    I was director of business services in 1964 to 1967, reporting to Frank Satenstein, Pres.

    I was offered a position in San Diego Ca and left the company…I always admired Frank S.

    My aunt Violet Buglione worked in the Saddle Brook plant until she passed away in 1972…

    Dave Festa

  10. George Rady

    My name is George Rady. I was employed by ABSP from 1946 until it closed down in Saddle Brook in 1982. I remember when Loius Satenstein passed away. Then Emanual Burr passed away. Frank Satenstein was the Producer of the Jackie Gleason Honeymooners. I was the foreman in the web offset department. The executiive officers in the Saddle Brook plant were Hank Burr and Martin Blumberg. When we closed down in 1982 it was like losing your family..
    Trouble with the Printers Union and the fact that a great deal of book manufacturing was done in other countries was the cause of the closing. I still recall the many pleasant days and years that I spent at 75 Varcik St. in NYC and 95 Mayhill St. in Saddle Brook, NJ. Those were the days that we thought would never end.

  11. Anna Satenstein

    Jeff,

    Thank you for this wonderful window into the “family business”. My dad, Harvey Satenstein, was first cousin of Sidney, Edward, & Frank. He worked at AB-SP for many years. Eventually, he moved to Washington D.C. where he was the “Chief Typographer” for the Library of Congress. Now we have so many fonts at our fingertips, I wonder what happened to the typography craftsmen/women and where the art of book binding and manufacturing will go in the next 20 years?

    I will be passing this article on to my brother, son and nephews. I enjoy seeing the comments from my cousins Heather and John. Thank you AB-SP employees for sharing your stories.

    Support your local independent bookstore,
    Anna

  12. John Sanderson

    Hi George! I hope you and yours are well. Yes, I loved working there too. It was a wonderful thing to be a part of a company that actually produced something…even better for it to have been something as noble as a book. Those months before, during, and after our closing were so sad. I grew up in the place, and thought I would retire there with people that I had known all my life. Remember the Echo Club dinners?

    Yes, it was the fault of the unions (that final strike did it), and the cheaper non-US manufacturing available. But sadly, it was also the fault of certain family members who considered AB-SP to be their personal cookie jar, instead of a living organization that needed less selfish attention.

  13. John Sanderson

    Jeff:

    It’s been a long time, but here’s some basic (very) information on AB-SP as it was….

    The company was founded by my Grandfather, Louis Satenstein in 1899 as the American Book Bindery. There lies an interesting story…. My grandfather had arrived in the US at the age of 13 accompanied only by his friend David, also age 13. (I guess people had more nerve at an early age then). In his early 20s he was working for the H.Wolf Book Manufacturing company in their office as a bookkeeper. He had the odd ability to add, subtract, multiply, and divide 5 digit numbers in his head in seconds. One of Wolf’s customers, a Mr. Hurst, was amused my my Grandfather’s “trick” and became friendly with him. As time went by, Mr. Hurst became more and more aggravated with the delays in his orders, and offered to set up my Grandfather with a bindery if he would just do his (Hurst’s) jobs on demand. He did so, and then immediatly sold the business to my Grandfather for $100. Such a deal! As it turned out, the company grew exponentially, and Mr. Hurst fell on hard times. My Grandfather built him a house on his property in Spring Valley, NY, and supported him for the remainder of his life. At one time AB-SP was the largest book manufacturing company in the world.

    There’s tons more, but I’ll skip ahead to the 1970s:

    75 Varick St. was closed up in late 1975, when all binding operations were moved to 95 Mayhill St. in Saddlebrook N.J..

    The sheetfet letterpress operation in Cornwall, N.Y. was closed down in the latter part of 1976. The warehouse at 26th street (formerly the site of the H. Wolf Book Manufacturing Co.) was also closed up in 1976. I had the depressing job of overseeing the closure of these two former greats. I had no actual authority as I was 24 years old and just starting out.

    The typesetting operation was maintained in Brattleboro, Vt., and continued operating after the rest of the company was closed in 1982.

    As far as equipment goes, here is a basic rundown. The plant was immense, and although I can still see it in my mind’s eye, the details of the various lines are scetchy…..

    The printing department had 3 single color (Was there a two color?) sheetfed presses…I believe at least one was a Miehle with a Dahlgren dampening system.

    We had 7 four color offset web presses of varying cutoffs. I believe there were two 25 3/8 presses, which were the busiest. Grolier encyclopedias were a staple early on, and the largest press had an unusual cutoff, so when the Grolier business died off, so did the use of that dinosaur of a press. Another was designed for Catholic Missals, and it too had an odd cuttoff. It sat idle for much of the time after Vatican II in the 1960s.

    The bindery was extensive. We had at least two high speed “perfect binding” lines which were nearly always busy. There was still a large Smythe sewing department for library and textbooks. We also had side sewers in the same area. (The head of the sewing department, Lena Schwartz, had been with the company for 70 years when she retired). There were several gathering lines not attached to rounder-backer lining up and building-in lines. The perfect binders had their own gathering lines.

    The folding department was extensive, as we needed the capability to fold sheets that came in from other printers, or from our own sheetfed department.

    There were several casebound covering machines…some attached, and some not. I can’t remenber the make. They were all a lot older than me…with the exception of one that we built in house – the Dubymatic. There were extensive casebound cover making lines. There were also severalseperate embossing stations for paper covers.

    Towards the end we bought a German manufactured automatic jacketing machine, but it never worked long before something went wrong. The ladies in the jacketing department did a much better job, and were a lot more cheerful.

    There were two gilding machines, as well as wonderful capabilities to do some hand finishing, or special high quality jobs.

    AB-SPs huge fulfillment warehousing and departments were in the same building.

    At the time of it’s closure, American Book had a bit more than 1,100 employees. It’s assets and equipment were aquired by Arcata Graphics. I went to Arcata for just a few months before changing careers and working on Wall Street as a convertible bond salesman. I’ve been in the securities business for 30 years.

    If I had the chance to go back to AB-SP again tomorrow, I’d be there in a flash.

  14. George Rady

    Hi John, You sure knew a great deal about ABSP. How did Louis Satenstein acquire Stratford Press? I heard a few stories about that. I do not recall a John SAnderson.

  15. John Sanderson

    Hey George. It’s John Satenstein as you knew me. Sanderson is my legal name.

    I don’t remember the Stratford Press story. All I know is that he bought it sometime in the 1920s. Knickerbocker, I think, was in the early 50s. Dunewald was in the 60s. I was posted there while it was closing too. Talk about a depressing start to my job at AB-SP. But, things did get better for a while, and like I said above, I’d go back there in a flash.

  16. George Rady

    Yes John, I recall showing you around the web pressroom. Do you remeber Reg Wordley who was the first manager of the pressroom? How abut Mickey dudas and lenny Rappaport and Tony DiAntonio. John I loved being a part of ABSP for 37 years from 1946 until 1982. The song that says “Those were the days my friend I thought they’d never end. Unfortunately they did. I remeber Hank Burr had a son and Martin Blumberg had a daughter named Susan. I am 90, years old, if ABSP opened up again I would get there on my electric power scooter. You have brought back so many pleasant memories. Thank you.

  17. John Sanderson

    Absolutely! I knew Lenny & Mickey. I didn’t know Reg Wordly, or, I never got to know him for some reason. Remember Irving Siegal with his blue glasses? Charlie up in Cornwall? Hank is still around…his son Johnny never got involved at AB-SP. BTW, my Dad was Ned. He died in 1968. If you send me your email address I’ll send you a photo of me at the controls of the Grolier press circa 1964! johnlsanderson@gmail.com

  18. Jay Arnold

    Hi my name is jay Arnold and I work at try Donnelley in Pittsburgh but my dad retired from American book in saddle brook nj he was a plate maker. Frank Arnold and my brother inlaw joe spik also a plate maker worked there also

  19. Linda McInerney

    I just came across bunch if old book from this company and wondered if they have any value?
    The hunchback if Notre dame,selected writings of Thomas Paine, English comidiesthe best known works of Gustavo Flaubert ,Ben-Hur, Jane Eyer, Lavengro and the Romany rye
    Thank you

  20. Julie Desimone

    I just happened upon this while trying to find out about my Dad’s former employer. He too worked on Varick Street in the 1950’s-1973. His name was Tommy Desimone. He also belonged to a Bowling league. If there is anyone out there who knew my Dad, please let me know! Thank you.

  21. Julie Desimone

    And Linda, I would love to buy a book from you showing American Book Bindery from the 1960’s perhaps??? I’d love to think it was possible my dad worked on it…

  22. Lil CH

    Dioes anyone know why the building on 9th avenue and 30th street is shaped the way it is. The back is angled in; it is an unusual shape and I wonder why it was designed that way.

  23. Lil CH

    Anyone know what the building (on 9th Ave and 30th Street) has such an unusual shape?

  24. sandra Romero

    my dad worked on Canal Street, and later it moved to Saddle Brook NJ. He is 93 now and still talks about his foreman days there…

  25. John Sanderson

    Please give your dad my best! He probably know me as John, or Jock Satenstein. Of what department was he foreman?

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