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A 19th Century Chop Shop

A unique (and rather dangerous) free museum for those with curious fingers
By - posted 11/9/2010 No Comment

Would you be surprised to find out this paper cutter was called a "Guillotine"?

Bookbinding is the art of physically assembling and sewing the pages and spine of a book by hand – a skill that was made more or less obsolete for the purpose of mass production of books with the dawning of the Industrial Revolution.

The non-profit American Bookbinders Museum in the Mission District, which is part of a working bookbindery which still practices this art, documents the history of how books used to be put together in this pre-Industrial age.

Exhibits celebrate the skilled artisans who bound books by hand as well as highlight samples of vintage marbled and printed papers dating as far back as the 18th century.

But you can see a piece of old paper anywhere.

An 800-pound embossing machine from 1832

The Industrial Revolution – Not for Curious Fingers
What you came here for was probably to get close (but not too close) to an impressive array or large and terrifying-looking 19th and early 20th century binding and cutting machines, many of which could cut off all your fingers in one go if you stood too close.

We’re not kidding. One of these devices from around 1900 is actually called the “Guillotine American” which can cut an entire stack of paper in just one frightening stroke.

The collection’s oldest machine is the Imperial Press English which predates the Civil War by a generation. This 800-pound embossing machine from 1832 (militarily called an “arming press” in England) used heating irons to impress an image – often in gold – onto a the cover of a book or a spine.

The museum is free and open on Saturday afternoons from Noon to 4pm

American Bookbinders Museum
– 1962 Harrison Street at 16th Street, SF (Mission District)
– 415-710-9369
– Open Saturdays, Noon to 4pm and by appointment