Volume 12 - Autumn 2001


North Bennet Street School


At a time when many bookbinding training programs seem to have an uncertain future, the North Bennet Street School remains deeply committed to its two-year, full-time bench bookbinding program. Established in 1986, the course meets in Boston's North End, 30 hours a week, 10 months each year-the only such program in North America.

The oldest trade school in the United States, the North Bennet Street School was established in 1885 and still occupies its original building. In addition to bookbinding, the school has full-time programs in cabinet and furniture making, piano tuning and rebuilding, locksmithing, jewellery making, violin making, carpentry, and preservation carpentry. Typically there are about 150 students at the school. The average age of an NBSS student is 34 years.

Six students are admitted each year into the bookbinding program Bookbinding students in recent years have come from diverse backgrounds and have ranged in age from 19 to 60 years. Students have come from North and South America, Europe, and Asia and bring a rich variety of experience with them. Before becoming bookbinders, recent students have been in a variety of other professions-graphic and studio arts, library science, conservation, Wall Street finance, education, plumbing, and carpentry.

The program does not require a large amount of bookbinding experience of it's applicants, but does look for hand skills along with an understanding of the profession into which the graduate will enter. Some of the best students in the program came with very little bookbinding experience, but had highly developed hand skills and a willingness to learn.

At NBSS, the bookbinding program provides a foundation upon which graduates can build careers in book repair and conservation, fine binding, and edition work, or in the creation of books as art. Approximately two-thirds of the curriculum involves skills and techniques training through a variety of assigned projects. The remaining third is open for students to pursue their own special interests, with the guidance and support of the instructor. However, since the majority of graduates choose to work in book repair and conservation the curriculum slants slightly in that direction. All students are expected to finish several cloth and leather repairs, including paper repair, before they graduate.

Upon satisfactory completion of the coursework, an NBSS student receives a certificate in bookbinding.

In their first year at North Bennet Street School, students learn basic bookbinding techniques. They begin the year with three non-adhesive bindings. After learning several full and half cloth binding structures the students begin learning book repair and conservation. Conservation and repair projects include repair of cloth and paper bindings, paper repair, making boxes and enclosures, and documentation. Towards the end of the first year two leather bindings are introduced, a limp leather and a half leather case. The year ends with a half leather rounded spine box. . First year students make approximately 12 different binding structures, in addition to their repairs and enclosures. The second year curriculum provides a comprehensive overview of 18th, 19th and 20th century leather bindings, finishing, and rebacking and repair of leather bindings. Second year students will make approximately 9 full or half leather bindings from the English, German and Northern European bookbinding traditions. Included in those bindings are single and double flexible full calf, a set of millimetre variations, and at least one fine binding. They are required to conserve at least three leather bindings (repairs which much include various methods of board attachment), and will have the opportunity to repair several more if they wish to emphasise repair and conservation.

Throughout both years the course, students have many opportunities to repair books for clients and institutions. We are entering the third year of a grant funded project which provides the students the opportunity to work on books from the Special Collections of the American School for the Deaf, the oldest special education school in North America. In addition students have had the opportunity to repair books for the Special Collection Library at Tufts University and the Appalachian Mountain Club.

NBSS is committed to graduating bookbinders who can begin new careers with strong hand skills, the ability to think a book through before beginning binding, and who have had exposure to all the essential elements of bookbinding. Students also understand that they still have much to learn. Our current graduates work at institutions across the country including Harvard, Library of Congress, The Boston Athenaeum, Pierpont Morgan library. Several have set up their own shops.

Mark Andersson heads the program and is an alumnus of the school. After graduating in 1992 he worked at the University of Washington in Seattle and built a private conservation practice with institutional and individual clients from across the United States. In 1996 he received a Fulbright Scholarship for the study of Scandinavian bookbinding and European conservation practices at the Carolina Rediviva Library in Uppsala, Sweden, where he studied for one year. He has been teaching at the school since 1998.

In addition to the full-time bookbinding course, NBSS also offers five day workshops. These courses include non-adhesive binding, case binding, introduction to leather binding, book repair, boxes and enclosures as well as other aspects of bookbinding. The workshops are offered on weekdays during the summer and on Saturdays during the school year.

For more information, including a list of assigned class projects in the full-time program please contact the admissions officer of the school at admissions@nbss.org or write to:

Mark Andersson
North Bennet Street School
39 North Bennet Street
MA 02113, USA

or e-mail him at bookbinding@nbss.org
Information on workshops and all the full time programs can be found at the school's web site: www.nbss.org


Skin Deep - Volume 12 - Autumn 2001

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