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In an age of Kindles, Harcourt Bindery sticks to tried-and-true book methods

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Chelsea Sheasley

(Read caption) Patricia Rosen has worked for 8 years at Harcourt, which is the largest for-profit hand-bookbindery in the United States and the last one in the country to operate on the 19th-century production model.

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What is a traditional paper-and-ink book fan going to do in the age of Kindles, Nooks, and iPads? The percentage of readers who have made the switch to e-readers is growing quickly: Over the winter holidays, the number of adults in the United States who own e-book readers nearly doubled from 10 to 19 percent, according to a study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

But readers who prefer a turn of the page to a swipe of a finger should not despair yet. Instead, they should make the acquaintance of Samuel B. Ellenport, who not only loves paper-and-ink books, but also earns a living making them – the old-fashioned way.

Ellenport is the president of Harcourt Bindery, a hand bindery business in Charlestown, Mass., that is the largest for-profit hand-bookbindery in the United States
and the last one in the country to operate on the 19th-century production model. Books produced here have landed in the halls of Ivy League universities and major museums. A custom case was once made here at Harcourt to hold the sleeping cap of Charles Dickens and Ronald and Nancy Reagan commissioned work from this bindery when they were in the Oval Office.

The operation runs much as it would have at the height of manual bookbinding in the US, when each person in the shop was highly skilled in one area of the process.

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