Some Well Known Ex-Bookbinders

There are likely more famous people who apprenticed as bookbinders and left the field, than bookbinders who are well known. Hope for all of us in a second career?


George Davis, 1850-1907, Father of chemical engineering

Rudolf Diesel, 1858-1913(?), Inventor of diesel engine

Johan Most, 1846-1906, Anarchist

Michael Faraday, 1791-1867, Discovered electromagnetic induction

Johann Strauss, 1804-1849, Musician

Josef Sudek, 1896-1976, Photographer

William Swain, Inventor of Quack Patent Medicine “Swaim’s Panacea”



2 Replies to “Some Well Known Ex-Bookbinders”

  1. If you will allow me to strut and swagger a bit, I listed a few in the last rhyme in my “Struwwelbinder; oor, Ruthless Rhymes for Brutal Bookbinders”:

    …Perhaps as great as Faraday,
    Or A.R. Spofford (in his day),
    Or Major General Henry Knox
    (Washington’s crony, who piled rocks),
    James Murray, Lexicographer,
    John Bartlett, quoting up a stir,
    Tom Holmes a-listing Mathers olden,
    Old Strauss composing waltzes golden.

    Where some went well, yet some went ill:
    Like often-execrated Gilles
    de Rais, companion to St. Joan,
    Cagliostro (Count) and Al Capone….

    These men differ in their degrees of bookbinderliness. Knox (Washington’s chief of artillery and later our first Secretary of War), Faraday (in some opinions the greatest scientist of the 19th century, Strauss, and Holmes all served their full apprenticeships and worked as journeymen before taking up their later careers. Holmes, whose bibliographies of Cotton and Increase Mather are still, after eighty years, regarded as keys to Colonial history, had been a top forwarder (at the Club Bindery) before he left the bench. Spofford (who made the Library of Congress what it is) and Bartlett (of the Familiar Quotations) are a bit more amorphous: they seem to have been apprenticed as binders, but in general bookselling and stationers’ shops, and they rapidly left hand work.

    At the other extreme: Al Capone worked for a few weeks as a cloth cutter in an edition bindery. I know of Murray and de Rais as amateur bookbinders from one mention of each in biographies of them. De Rais, by the way, is among those who went ill, not for his youthful friendship with St. Joan, but for his conviction decades later as a heretic, mass murderer, and pedophile. I believed for decades that Cagliostro was a bookbinder in his youth, but when I tried to check this I found so little support that I reluctantly concluded that he was no such thing. I blame it on the man himself, though: “Impersonating a Bookbinder” is a small addition to the list of his japeries, and well in line with them, even if the impersonation happened only a couple of centuries after his death.

    Of your seven names I knew only Faraday and Strauss. I’m looking forward to reading about the others.

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