We can find some of Madrid’s master artisans working among leather, papyrus scrolls, book looms, and presses, determined to make the hands of time stand still as we turn the pages of the books they bind. Madrid is home to book presses where age-old hand-binding techniques are used to make truly unique editions. These guardians of history also restore a range of literary gems.
World Book Day is celebrated around the globe on 23 April, and there’s a reason behind it. It was on this day, back in 1616, that Miguel de Cervantes, William Shakespeare and the Spanish-Andean writer Inca Garcilaso de la Vega died. Since 1996, their memory has been commemorated every year on this day, in an international event that promotes reading and the publishing industry. Despite huge advances over the centuries, from the invention of the press to the e-book, there are still professionals in Madrid who dedicate their body and soul to this millenary form of art. These masters of bookbinding are experts in sewing, gluing and assembling folded sheets, notebooks and booklets, generally using paper, and wrapping them in a cover. A process which has two very different purposes: one which is practical, to facilitate the handling of the copy, and the other which is merely artistic. At the workshops we will now visit, the books we read are bound with much love and dedication. And the best thing is, they also run classes so others can continue to do the same.
Bárbara de Braganza, 11. Metro: COLÓN
The history of this workshop dates back to 1907, the year in which Manuel Calero acquired the business that Juan Mole had headed since 1899 at number 5 on the very same street. Walking through its doors today is like stepping back to a world of yesteryear, despite much time having passed since then. There are wooden tables and an array of tools in pallets, chalcographic presses, type, skiving knives, paint brushes, plus book presses, cutters, leather, and paper. Thanks to the inspiration that comes from being located exactly opposite the Spanish National Library, this millenary trade has been kept alive by three women: Mayte Gómez, Chon González and Mónica Sánchez. These guardians of an almost-forgotten tradition also preserve the history between the lines of every document that comes their way, since in addition to binding they also offer restoration services.
This centuries-old workshop has seen letters from the Catholic Monarchs, books belonging to Felipe II of Spain, even declarations confirming purity of blood… and has welcomed the likes of doctor and scientist Gregorio Marañón, whose books were bound here. There was also a time at which Calero worked likewise4 in leathercraft, and it was at this workshop that the first briefcases were made for the country’s ministers. Nowadays, as well as sewing with great care, reducing leather thickness with knives, and adding information to the cover and spine in gold embossing, they also give classes in paper jewellery, cardboard crafts, and an introduction to calligraphy. They accept orders for all types of projects, from hand-sewn cotton fabric photo albums to book covers and cradle boxes for large books, and luxury binding services using natural silk and gold-leaf adornments. True art.
Zurbarán, 8. Metro: ALONSO MARTÍNEZ
Hand-painted paper, leather, parchments, and fabric… Every one of the materials that fills this workshop is later transformed into notebooks, books, folders, and photo albums. And to do so, the artisans here use the very same age-old techniques that were once used by traditional bookbinders. As we watch pieces be cut out and folded sheets sewn together on book looms, we’re transported to another time. At this workshop, book adornment is one of their main priorities. Bronze lettering is used to emboss titles or initials on the book cover or the spine, and gold tooling – one of the most popular processes over the centuries – is used to decorate both the covers and fore edge of the book. This is just one of the things you’ll learn if you pop into the store. Or, better yet, sign up to one of their regular courses, which aim to “equip all lovers of artisan crafts with the basic necessary, practical skills to bind their own books”. Classes are held at 5, Calle de Fernando el Santo, where a store is located.
Bernardo López García, 1. Metro: NOVICIADO
This workshop in the neighbourhood of Conde Duque first opened its doors in the year 1975. Since then it has remained in the hands of the Camacho family, experts in restoring books and printed documents, and artisan and artistic bookbinding. “The purpose of bookbinding is to bind together and protect the contents of a book, whether made from paper, parchment or papyrus. This craft has meant that true documentary treasures have been preserved,” we learn. Here pieces are made using paper, fabric, guaflex, and leather, in addition to more exclusive pieces in every style you could imagine, from Gothic, Mudejar, Plateresque, and Romantic to more modern trends. To do so, these artisans use only raw materials of the utmost quality, and a combination of traditional and contemporary techniques. They also restore books, maps, drawings, and even banknotes, removing all traces of the passing of time. Here you’ll also find classes on Wednesdays and Fridays, whose aim is to keep this intricate and nostalgic craft alive.