175 Years of Preserving the Printed Word, 1821-1996

In 1944, Bud Parisi, a student at Norwich University in Vermont, enlisted in the Army. Bud was sent to Fort Devens, joined an infantry outfit and took basic training at Camp Blanding, Florida. Bud spent the rest of World War II in Panama and was honorably discharged in 1947.

Upon returning to the United States, Bud accepted a position as an apprentice bookbinder at Harvard University earning fifty cents an hour. Bud was trained to finish leather and cloth covers with floral and linear patterns and to add titles and other spine lettering–all by hand. Somewhat rebellious, Bud stirred up the guild-like environment of the bindery. For example, Bud wanted to use a Kensol stamping machine to stamp Linotype-set slugs for library book covers rather than hand-letter those books one line at a time with hand-set type. The older binders felt that this would reduce quality so they fought the change. Remember that in this post-Depression era everyone was worried about the security of their jobs. Eventually, Bud convinced his boss, Sam Donnell–a Harvard MBA–to make the change. (An interesting aside is that Sam, while assistant dean of admissions at the Harvard Business School, admitted Fred and Helmut Alpers, whose family owned General Bookbinding in Ohio.)

In 1949, Bud married Antoinette (Anne) Memmolo of Dorchester, Massachusetts. They had three children: Carole, born in 1951; Paul, born in 1953; and John, born in 1958.

In 1958, Harvard closed its bindery. Sam Donnell returned from his advertising career in Chicago and bought Harvard’s bindery business. Sam moved the company to 24 Blackstone Street in Cambridge. He named it New England Bookbinding (NEBB), and hired all of the old employees.

One of Sam’s most important developments began with a call from a young entrepreneur named Gary Hall. Gary was publishing a 14-inch by 10-inch catalog of the holdings of major libraries. His company, G.K. Hall, photographed libraries’ card catalogs and printed the pages as single sheets rather than signatures, thus requiring a durable library-quality binding. This account eventually grew to be half of Sam’s business. Volumes bound for G.K. Hall by NEBB can be found in most academic libraries in North America. When this business began to be replaced in the early 1980’s by on-line catalogs and microfiche, it was natural to look for a replacement in other edition binding sources.

Bud started his own business, Acme Bookbinding, on October 31, 1958, the day his third child, John, was born. The timing of these events was not exactly planned. To augment his income, Bud had been operating a specialty stamping business from the basement of his home. Working evenings and weekends, Bud would stamp diaries with corporate logos or personal names. Bud thought this business showed promise. He asked Sam, his boss, for permission to work a three-day week in order to devote more time to his new venture. Sam assented.

The first day that Bud was not scheduled to work at New England Bookbinding, Bud and the pregnant Anne had an appointment with their obstetrician. Before leaving for the appointment, Bud got a telephone call from Sam. Bud listened to Sam say that perhaps it would be better for them both if they made a clean break. Sam told Bud to come in to pick up his last paycheck.

On their way to the doctor’s office, Bud told Anne that he had been fired. Anne, a Depression-era baby sensitive to economic vagaries, told Bud to step on it. The shock of the news brought John Parisi into the world that day. In light of these events, Bud decided to offer bookbinding in addition to specialty stamping at his new company.

Acme Bookbinding began in a 1500-square-foot store located at 100 School Street in Waltham. Bud chose the name Acme because it means “the best”–and it would be first in the phone book. It was a modest beginning. With $1500 in savings, Bud bought a few pieces of equipment: a lever cutter, a sewing frame, and a book press.

Acme’s first customer was the attorney Chester Webb, who had advertised for someone to bind his old Massachusetts Reports. Bud persuaded Mr. Webb to give him the job. Mr. Webb was so pleased with the work that he gave Bud a letter of recommendation to the librarian at the then recently-opened Brandeis University in Waltham. (Today Bud’s granddaughter and Mr. Webb’s grandson are playmates in Lincoln, Massachusetts.) Brandeis promised Bud fifteen books per week–more than he really could handle. Bud next showed samples of his work to the librarians at Simmons College, the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Boston Athenaeum, and again was given the opportunity to bind a small but steady quantity of work.

Bud found it necessary to work two part-time jobs to make ends meet. Acme was a real family business. Anne handled customer service, order entry, and bookkeeping. Anne’s father, a carpenter, built the work benches at Acme and helped out with other odd jobs over the years. Anne’s mother and Bud’s mother both helped out with baby-sitting the Parisi children. The children–Carole, seven and Paul, five– also were involved performing simple tasks around the bindery such as sweeping the floors.

In 1959, Acme moved to a 7,000-square-foot space located on the fourth floor of 300 Summer Street, in Boston. At this time, Bud was able to secure bank financing to buy his first oversewing machine, a glue machine and a pneumatic roller-backer. In 1961, Bud purchased the assets of Holtzer Bookbinding, a company that specialized in medical library binding. In 1965, Bud hired the owner of Sanford Goldstamping, Jack Clark, after he was wiped out by a fire. In 1966, Bud bought his first semi-automatic rounder and backer and a modern guillotine cutter.

Bud recognized that even though he had only enough work to use these machines several hours a day, he needed them to survive. Although he was a skilled bookbinder able to do things the old-fashioned way, he could not be on the road, selling, and be in the bindery, working. Good machinery was the answer to his dilemma.

In 1973, Bud’s son, Paul, who was a sophomore at Harvard, wrote a paper for an economics course weighing the costs and benefits of a five-year plan to invest $100,000 to expand a hypothetical bookbinding business. Both Paul’s economics professor and his dad thought the business plan was sound. Paul knew the bindery’s technology and market from having worked at Acme weekends, vacations and summers since childhood, doing every job from oversewing to stamping. In fact, Paul was able to make all the pick-ups and deliveries for his Dad’s nine-employee company after classes two days a week. Bud and Paul decided to execute Paul’s plan to modernize and expand the bindery. The gist of the plan was to grow the business to justify the latest labor-saving machinery.

In 1974, Acme added 6000 square feet of adjacent space at their 300 Summer Street address. They bought a Versamatic casing-in machine, a Kensol flip-out chase Linotype-compatible stamper and two more oversewing machines. They also introduced pre-cut materials (board, cover inlay paper and cloth) and computer pre-printed binding slips. In 1975, Bud gave majority ownership of Acme to Paul as an encouragement to have him join the firm after graduating from college, a remarkable step for a man not yet fifty years old.

In 1978, the year of the great northeast blizzard, Acme acquired New England Bookbinding Company. Sam Donnell joined Acme as sales manager and worked until his retirement in 1994. At Sam’s retirement party, the Donnell and the Parisi versions of Bud’s termination from New England Bookbinding were joked over.

In 1979, the Parisi’s purchased a 25,000-square-foot building in Charlestown which, after major renovations, became Acme’s new home. In 1980, Bud’s second son, John, joined the business after graduating from Bentley College. Like his older brother, he started at the bottom and moved up the ranks. Today, John is plant manager responsible for a 150-person staff.

In 1983, Acme purchased Northeast Library Binding and added 25,000 square feet to its building to accommodate the added business. The acquisition of Northeast provides Acme’s link to 1821. Until proven otherwise, Acme claims to be the oldest continuously-operating bookbinding company in the world.

The entity which became Northeast Library Binding was founded in 1821 by J.G. Roberts at 6 Water Street in Boston. Roberts specialized in all types of binding for publishers, printers, libraries and individuals. In 1880, Frank J. Barnard and L.M. Pinkham bought the business from Roberts’ heirs. In 1886, Frank J. Barnard acquired Pinkham’s interest and changed the company’s name to F.J. Barnard. In 1890, Barnard began specializing in library binding.

Barnard was an industry leader in many ways. Barnard bound the first editions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Watt’s Hymn Book. The Republican Party of Massachusetts was formed in Barnard’s 17 Providence Street office. According to company records, Barnard was the first binder to pre-bind using buckram as a covering material, and the first to recognize the role of machinery in a successful bindery business.

Frank M. Barnard, the son of Frank J., also owned the Oversewing Machine Company of America. He was instrumental in developing the oversewing machine, the automatic rounder and backer, the Versamatic single-wing casing-in machine and illustrated book covers.

Frank M. Barnard was the only library binder ever to be president of the Employing Bookbinders of America, later renamed the Book Manufacturer’s Institute (BMI). Barnard claimed responsibility for developing the first specifications for library binding along with Miss Wheelock, librarian of the Cleveland Public Library. Barnard was a charter member of the Library Binding Institute and one of its early presidents. Barnard’s attorney, Dudley Weiss, became the LBI’s acting executive director, a job he held for nearly fifty years. In its heyday, Barnard was one of the largest, most influential and most progressive library binders in the United States.

Howard Atkins, president and owner of Barnard after Frank M.’s death, sponsored the U.S. citizenship of a young Israeli engineer named Jack Bendror. Bendror, owner of Mekatronics and developer of most of the modern machinery used by library binders, was financed in the early years of his company with advance deposits on machines that Barnard needed.

In 1973, after the death of Howard Atkins, the business was sold to J.S. Wesby and Sons, Inc. and was renamed the Wesby Barnard Bindery. Wesby operated both a trade bindery and a library bindery in Worcester, Massachusetts. Wesby later closed the library bindery in Worcester and consolidated operations at Barnard’s Medford, Massachusetts facility. In 1978, the business was sold to Howard Vibber and the name was changed to Northeast Library Binding Company, Inc. In 1983, Acme acquired the business and the story continues.

In 1984, Acme began a division of the company that specializes in binding large editions of new hardcover and paperback books for publishers and printers. This diversification required new kinds of machinery and adaptation of the labor force to it. In the early days of this new venture, Anne Parisi referred to its production line as the “executive line” because Bud, Paul and John could be found working there. Today, Acme is known for its state-of-the-art equipment, rated at 50 hardcover books per minute, and its ability to bind the most challenging books to exacting standards.

In 1990, Acme introduced a preservation photocopy service to produce facsimiles of brittle books that are out of print but still in demand. In 1992, Acme began a presentation products division that supplies document covers, pocket folders, tabs, ring binders and customized foil stamping to corporations, copy shops and professionals such as lawyers, accountants and financial planners. In 1994, Acme purchased a 50,000 square foot building adjacent to its main facility to house the expanding edition binding operation. Equipment capable of manufacturing 100 paperback books per minute was acquired to complement Acme’s hard cover binding business.

Acme has maintained close ties to its equipment suppliers just as Frank Barnard did. Working with Jack Bendror and Mekatronics, Acme was instrumental in developing ABLE library/bindery automation software; the MD-17 computerized book measuring device; the Ultrabind fully automated, in-line milling, notching, fanning, notch-filling, spine-lining machine that can double-fan adhesive bind 200 randomly-sized books per hour with three operators; the Mek-A-Case fully-automated, zero make-ready cover making machine that can make 400 randomly-sized covers per hour with one operator; and the EZ-Cut computer-controlled cloth selection and custom trimming device for randomly-sized library bound volumes that runs unattended. Acme was one of the first library binders in North America to promote the use of notched double-fan adhesive binding as a substitute for oversewing.

Paul Parisi has carried on Frank Barnard’s leadership in binding standards. In 1983, at the Los Angeles Preconference on Library Binding, Paul first proposed the concept of a leaf attachment decision tree with recasing, sewing through the fold, notched double-fan adhesive binding and oversewing as the ranked options. Paul was co-editor of the Library Binding Institute Standard for Library Binding, 8th Edition, and co-author with Jan Merrill-Oldham of the Librarian’s Guide to the LBI Standard for Library Binding. Paul served on the International Standards Organization (ISO) committee that has writen the first ISO Standard for Library Binding. He is now serving as technical editor, with Bob DeCandido, of the first LBI/National Institute Standards Organization (NISO) Standard for Library Binding. The NISO Standard will be the first to include performance along with its technical and material specifications. Paul served as president of the Library Binding Institute from 1991 to 1993.

As its third century in business approaches, Acme is well positioned to continue preserving the printed word. Digital printing and just-in-time manufacturing have created a new paradigm for publishers and book manufacturers. The days of drawing books from a warehouse are numbered. Binding of short runs, from 50 to 300 copies, satisfies immediate demand for most titles. Production runs will not be long to achieve economies of scale, but because greater sales are anticipated. Acme’s ultra-short run heritage, developed as a library binder, and trade binding capability is ideal in the new world of zero-inventory.

Today Acme is one of the largest library binders in North America. Bud and Anne are still active in the business, although in a more limited role. They have six grandchildren to keep them busy: Kelly–age 9, Justine–age 9, Grant–age 7, Chase–age 5, Reid–age 2 and Shawn–age 1. The challenge of tomorrow’s book manufacturers will be to change with the times–to allow customers to experience, economically and conveniently, the appeal of a beautifully printed, well-bound book.