Have you ever wondered how the spines of books, which are basically rectangular objects, become rounded? I hadn’t either, until I saw the process first-hand in the basement of Ohio Book Store, where brothers Jim and Michael Fallon run the Ohio Book Store bindery. The rounding of a book spine is accomplished by a machine named, aptly enough, a rounder. The rounder also creases that groove between the cover and the spine of a book. It is steel, has a hydraulic cylinder, and makes me a little nervous as Jim Fallon demonstrates its operation on a book being rebound. With its old cover gone the book is a naked, fragile-looking thing, just a brick of stitched pages, but as the rounder shunts the spine against a cylindrical edge, it begins to take form.
Jim cuts new endpapers with what must be the grand-daddy of all paper cutters. This isn’t the sort of paper cutter where you lose fingers. It could just as easily take off Jim’s torso, but he’s a seasoned professional. I stand well back. A lot of the machinery in the Hephaestian workroom looks finger-endangering. Overall, it’s a cheery space with books and book bits stored neatly around the workroom. There’s a Ludlow machine, which instantly forges molten lead into type which they can then fit into a press for embossing gold and metallic foil into covers and spines. On the left, Jim demonstrates how type is clamped down, then pressed through fine metal foil.
The bindery has operated since 1986. Ohio Books Book Store has has been owned by Michael and Jim’s father since 1940. This is downtown Cincinnati’s booklovers’ paradise. Located on Main street, between 7th and 8th streets, it sports a recently polished marble façade. If you venture into the basement (and you’ve got to visit the upstairs too), there’s the distinct sensation, as is so often the case when descending below street level, of traveling backwards in time. This is where you’ll find the bindery, the perfect place to have a loved one’s favorite book rebound in new leather. Not only are old books beautiful, printed on paper that is three- dimensionally fibrous and imprinted, exquisitely typeset and illustrated, but they’re easily going to last another several hundred years. These aren’t just books in the modern expendable sense of the word, but objects. I’ve taken books for rebinding that were published in 1749. Back then, next to having an actual conversation, or talking to yourself, books were the premiere form of fireside entertainment, and their status is reflected in lush lettering and florid frontispieces. They’re bridges to a past world, to people long dead. Then, before the printed word had become such a cheap and commonplace thing, Jim and Michael’s trade, along with that of printers and typesetters, was still closely identified with religious orders, they were the keepers of The Written Word which had an unchallenged authority. Like architects and brick-layers, they worked not only to give body to ideas, but to give their creations permanence in an often capricious world. A lot of breath has been spent discussing what’s going to happen to books, but of this much we can be sure. You don’t need to worry about any book rebound by Jim and Michael Fallon, not for at a couple of hundred years at least. -ed scripsi