Like many couples today, Leslie and Daniel Weinberger have built up quite an archive of e-mails to each other. Mr. Weinberger sends his wife electronic dispatches from all over the world when he travels for work, and she has been saving them for years.
When Mrs. Weinberger stopped at a Manhattan bookshop recently and saw handmade volumes, "I got so excited," she says. She got the idea to make a custom book out of their e-mail.
She helped design a gray and rose leather cover embossed with gold Art Deco and floral designs and is now saving the volume to give to her husband on his birthday next spring. (Please don't tell.)
"In 30 years of marriage, this is definitely the most unique gift idea I've had," Weinberger says.
Historians, grandmothers, and the sentimental have been fretting that e-mail correspondence will not survive in any physical or retrievable form for the next generation. Real correspondence, they say - the kind you can leaf through years after it was written - is fast disappearing.
"I think it'll be a sad day when we go to show our grandkids personal family correspondence, and all that's there is an out-of-date computer disk with a program you don't use anymore," says Audrey Lavine, president of the New York chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers.
She advises clients to print out e-mails and keep them in three-ring binders. But other couples are having the same idea Weinberger had and getting more elaborate. By salvaging e-mails from the screen and binding them, they are making their love letters more permanent and accessible than even paper letters bundled up in a drawer or stashed in an attic box.
"They always come in thinking it's their original idea," says Joseph Landau, owner of findbinding.com, which has been binding e-mails for the past four years in New York. "I don't want to burst their bubble by telling them other people have been doing it."
Jo Lloyd from Brooklyn and her boyfriend used to e-mail while they were on tours with their bands. Since he shared a computer with others in the group, he could not save the letters. Jo did, however, and gave them to him in a 200-page book.
"They're such lovely letters," she says. "I want to make them real, not just megabytes in the computer."
His reaction: "I didn't even know you could get books made!"
What intrigues some people about binding e-mail is that it combines today's high-tech method of communicating with an old-fashioned art form.
"This is made like it was made in 1628," says Herbert Weitz as he bends over a book of photographs and computer-printed letters being put together in his basement workshop in Manhattan. "Hand is hand. Hand doesn't change."
And books made by hand are still expensive. Hardcovers in cloth start around $150 and in leather around $250.
"If you have the resources, that's great," Ms. Lavine says. "Otherwise, put them in a nice notebook and put a label on it."
Other budget options are having a copy center hot-glue them into a softcover collection, or having $50 hardcover "library binding" done, which is not necessarily an attractive keepsake but is built to last.
Mr. Landau says that people have been binding letters for years, especially war letters, which are mounted into a kind of scrapbook. "But any letters I get [to bind] now are old letters," he says. "All of the correspondence I get is strictly e-mail."
He says it is usually the women who order the books, often before their weddings or when one member of the couple is going away for a while.
The books take about a month to complete. "But I always say, if I find it interesting," Landau says, "you'll have to wait an extra week or so."
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society