In an era when screens dominate our waking hours, the centuries-old craft of book bindery is still very much alive. This intricate, precise and creative artistry utilizes a range of materials: handmade marble and fancy papers, book cloths and leather, hundreds of distinctive hand tools and formidable antique book presses. Barrington’s Dr. Philip Maddock has devoted much of his time and resources to mastering the technique. Dublin-born and educated and a lifelong bibliophile in every sense of the word, Philip’s enduring passion for book collecting led him almost 20 years ago, to learn the book bindery trade at Boston’s renowned North Bennet Street School.
After 44 years of practicing radiation oncology, 35 of them in Rhode Island, Philip retired from medicine three years ago and turned his attention to transforming the former Wallis Seafood into The Fish Bindery. Philip and his partner and son-in-law Jason Patrician, a seasoned bookbinder and paper marbler, offer a wide range of services including bookbinding, design bindings, book restoration and protective boxes. Philip and his wife Niamh are parents of three and grandparents of six. “All are infected with books in our house,” he says.
There’s been much discussion in the book trade about whether books were going to be killed by Kindle. Well, sales of Kindle have leveled off and started declining. The idea that we might be using screens [too much] has brought people back to printed books. There has been a revival in book binding. The Rare Book School at the University of Virginia now has a waiting list for some classes.
I came [into Wallis Seafood] one day to collect the fish and saw a For Sale sign. I had been thinking of putting together a bindery. I had a basement full of stuff collected over the years. Getting rid of the fish smell took forever! We cleaned it back to the cinder blocks, hosed it down with boracic acid and bicarbonate of soda.
People love their books and have all sorts of reasons for what they want done to them. A common request might be to not repair the book [but] instead create a safe enclosure for a well-loved, well-worn book. Or they love the book but hate the cover, so we design a new cover. They may have been profoundly touched by the ideas in a book and want a special binding, almost as a mark of respect for it. People who come to us may have a notion about book
repair, but it can become a puzzle with some books. Do you repair all from the back of a book or repair from the inside?
The oldest book in my collection is from 1500 and I only got it last month, which tells you a lot. I’ve bought some of my best books passing by a yard sale, turning around and going back. The library in our home is off the bedroom. The joke in our family is my wife will sometimes say, “Will you stop fondling that book and come to bed!” It’s that bad.