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Howard Iron Works - Printing and Bookbinding Equipment Restoration and Printing Museum  


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Before Gutenberg invented movable type, there was already a Bookbinding industry. What we refer to today as the case-bound book started centuries before the printing press albeit all the copy was scribed by hand. The need for technology to cut, fold, sew and glue pieces of paper together rapidly became an industry on to itself.

Thousands of machines have been created to meet the constantly greater demand for books, pamphlets, bindings and the like. Our Museum has not ignored the significance of these key inventions.

Early pioneers realized that by folding a large piece of paper they could simplify the process of making books. This meant the invention of folding machines. The folder then encouraged a way of “binding” pages or signatures together to form a block or the guts of the book.

Folding, then binding laid the path to thread sewing. First, by hand with simple wooden contraptions, then later by machine. The American Smyth sewer captured the vast market and has remained to this day as a leader in sewing. The German Brehmer Brothers traveled to Philadelphia where they gained experience to build a machine. Martini of Switzerland was another renowned builder, even to this day.

Paper cutters (or guillotines as they are referred in Europe) are probably the most dangerous technology in the industry. Many notable builders, such as the American Lawson, Challenge and Seybold, to the German Krause, Schneider and Perfecta, have led the developmental changes over the last 150 years. From initially crude and laborious to early programmability and hydraulic clamping, the paper cutter remains a fixture in all printing establishments.

Binding of books was at one time restricted to the expensive case bound variety. With the need to increase production new technologies in perfect binding (use of hot or coldglue to bind a book with a soft cover) changed the industry. Companies, such as Müller Martini, Sheridan, Dexter and Kolbus, made massive production lines that could produce a soft cover book at the rate of 14,000 books per hour.

Tools, for gilding, gold blocking and embossing, range from simple hand machines to larger monsters with feeders. Earlier machines used gas heaters and were also very dangerous.

Bookbinding processes today reflect the technology and equipment used 200 years ago. On the surface, little has changed. The same concepts in sewing, cutting and folding remain as they did at the start of industrialization. Craftsman emerged and have given us some of the most lovely intricate books that can be worth a fortune today.


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Printing Museum
and Restoration
Howard Iron Works Address

800 Westgate Road
Oakville, ON L6L 5N2

Tel. (905) 821-0000
Email: info@howardironworks.org
Website: www.howardironworks.org

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