Archive for Monday, January 10, 2011


1854 Bible among Lawrence resident’s book-binding projects

Hagen Miller prepares pages from an 1854 family Bible to be rebound at his home in east Lawrence.

Hagen Miller prepares pages from an 1854 family Bible to be rebound at his home in east Lawrence.

January 10, 2011


To say Hagen Miller is an old soul may sound cliché, but it’s nothing but the truth.

At 26, among his most prized possessions is a 400-year-old book on his desk and framed black-and-white family photos that hang in the study of his east Lawrence home. But it’s what’s jammed in the corner of that room that’s truly the proof in the pudding.

The 1854 family Bible that Hagen Miller is currently re-binding.

The 1854 family Bible that Hagen Miller is currently re-binding.

Hagen Miller uses a bone folder tool to prepare pages from an 1854 family Bible.

Hagen Miller uses a bone folder tool to prepare pages from an 1854 family Bible.

Hagen Miller on binding a family treasure

Among the books amateur book-binder Hagen Miller hopes to restore is his family's 1854 Bible. The book presents a special challenge because of stains, tears and other damage, but Miller says his biggest challenge is forgetting the book is so personal. Enlarge video

What’s there? A trove of pre-Civil War era tools and a book, older than the state of Kansas, that’s been stripped of its binding and is slowly, but surely, gaining new life.

By day, Miller works in the ever-advancing world of publishing as a supervisor in the content management services division at Allen Press, 810 E. 10th St. By night, he retires to his study, huddles over a Bible printed in 1854 and works away at the pages, restoring the book page by page with tools crafted within a decade of its printing.

“It probably hasn’t gotten the credit that it deserves as a true art form,” he says of hand-crafted book binding. “Knowing how to work with raw, natural material, vegetation to extract colors and different solutions you may need, making pasting glues and also additives into those mixtures to discourage insects from eating away at it — all that knowledge. I guess you could say that I think of the whole process as an art form, if you consider just how many hundreds of years of refinement it went through.”

The self-described bibliophile started book binding in July after years of toying with taking up the hobby. The biggest hurdle for him before getting started? Gaining the right knowledge. The Internet was helpful, but master binders keep their secrets locked up tighter than most. Which is one of many reasons he’s worried the ancient art will find itself extinct.

“I don’t think there are enough traditional binders left in the world. There are many, I don’t think calling them rare would be accurate,” Miller says. “Here we are as book binders trying to keep going, and yet they don’t really make an effort to reveal any useful insight or information, which, in my opinion, can be part of the problem. I mean, if you’re not keeping the information out there and teaching people ... then it’s going to take care of itself, probably.”

Miller started his foray into the craft by making a blank journal in simple leather binding before moving on to repairing old books, including that 1854 Bible, which has been in his mother’s family since its printing. The book’s binding had all but collapsed, its front and back boards wrecked, and stains cover the pages. Miller hopes to bind it well enough that it won’t have to be rebound in his lifetime.

His family members aren’t the only people benefiting from the unusual hobby. He’s had books commissioned from friends and co-workers at Allen Press, including Rick Moore, the company’s director of content management services, who asked Miller to create three unique books as Christmas presents for family members — his wife, daughter and granddaughter.

“We own several hundred hard-bound books and in general enjoy and appreciate books. So, (I) thought it would be a neat gift for her, our daughter and granddaughter for Christmas,” Moore says. “In today’s world of mass-produced (items), each book is a unique item and something they can retain for their lifetime, and likely several generations beyond.”

The whole process from start to finish took about six weeks of Miller working at a small folding table in his office, where he keeps all of his supplies. But before getting started, Miller quizzed Moore about the likes and dislikes of each of the recipients, much in the way an interior or fashion designer would interview a client before creating a room or piece.

“Hagen was very easy to work with, he provided several suggestions of different styles and the resulting appearance, discussed coloring for each book cover, etc.,” Moore says. “And then he worked his magic.”

The result was three books with a similar look — a three-part panel on the front of each book, all dyed to reflect the new owner.

Despite his worries about book binding being a dying art, suffering from its secrecy as much as the Kindle and the iPad, Miller believes books and the craft of binding them will always be important.

“As a civilization, as we progress in technology, I think going back into history will become a lot more lucrative,” Miller says. “I think right now we’re still kind of stuck on the high of, ‘Hey, look at this! I can just drag my finger across a screen, look what it does.’ Whereas, a book, could contain all the same information as that device, but if you drop the book it will still work.

“That’s pretty amazing. It actually is pretty clever technology, if you consider the whole of it.”

— Staff writer Sarah Henning can be reached at 832-7187.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 3 months ago

KU libraries used to have bookbinders on staff. Does anyone know if they still do?

photobrea 7 years, 3 months ago

Yes, KU libraries have a Preservation Department: The Spencer Research Library at KU has a huge collection of rare books: They also hold the University Archives. Also, bookbinding is far from a dying art. Check out for a whole page of links to educational opportunities in bookbinding and the book arts .

Grammaton 7 years, 3 months ago

To clarify: By dying art, I meant to indicate traditional bindings and the styles and methods that existed before automation and modern materials such as PVA glue, aniline dyed leather, etc. Bookbinders used to (some still do) color leather by hand using various extracts and decoctions. Tree barks had been used centuries ago but that knowledge is nearly all lost according to my research. Zaehnsdorf himself alluded to this in his book The Art of Bookbinding, 1897. So far I've had some success in using natural dyes such as madder root and walnuts (and used them for the three books mentioned in the article), but there's a lot to learn still.

Bookbinding as a whole is thriving -- whether it's modern or design binding or something more eclectic. Traditional period binding is its own creature, and there are many purist binders out there who still follow the old methods, choosing not to incorporate any modern material or method into the work... but modern binding styles are far more prevalent these days.

Cheers, ~Hagen

pagan_idolator 7 years, 3 months ago

I have an old family bible that is in bad need of new binding. Wondered if there was anyone around who did it. Thanks for the info.

Grammaton 7 years, 3 months ago

Here's one of the three books mentioned -- an example of using natural dyes as opposed to inlaying pre-dyed leather.

turtlegrace 7 years, 3 months ago

To say that "master binders keep their secrets locked up tighter than most" or that "they don’t really make an effort to reveal any useful insight or information" is not, in my experience, at all an accurate generalization. I entered bookbinding as a rank novice nearly ten years ago. In the intervening years I've been warmly welcomed not only by every individual binder and conservator I approached for advice, lessons, and apprenticeships, but by the national Guild of Book Workers (, where I now serve on the executive board as editor of the guild's journal. I have a home-based business as a binder, and I will be learning for the rest of my life from the many masters of the craft who have made themselves available as teachers, mentors, and advisors through the Guild and through book arts centers and libraries around the country.

-- Cara Schlesinger, editor, Guild of Book Workers Journal

Grammaton 7 years, 3 months ago

Thanks, Cara. What I mentioned about "keeping secrets" has, thus far, been my personal experience in talking to and interacting with other bookbinders. I'm glad to know that my case is isolated.

turtlegrace 7 years, 3 months ago

And it's good that you're willing to speak publicly about your work and educate others on this wonderful art and craft . Everyone seems to have his or her own unique path into bookbinding, and perhaps someone (or many) will be inspired by this article to begin learning.

verity 7 years, 3 months ago

Beautiful work. Thanks for sharing it.

It's definitely not an either/or world. Just because someone may use a Kindle or IPad or read off the computer, it doesn't follow that they won't still read printed books. Each has it's place, making information available.

I hope that you will be in the Lawrence Art Walk so that we can see your work first hand.

verity 7 years, 3 months ago

I just clicked on Ms. Schlesinger's link. I find it interesting that the Guild uses Facebook and Twitter---showing that the old and the new technology work quite well together.

JustNoticed 7 years, 3 months ago

It is beautiful and I applaud Mr. Miller's interest and skill. But it does not exalt him or his craft to call it an art. It simply muddles the idea by confusing excellent craftsmanship with art. They are not the same. And, neither does my comment degrade his excellent work by simply pointing this out. I do not intend to do that.

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