Father-son duo at the Hilltop’s Beck & Orr still binding books by hand

Walking into Beck & Orr Book Binding is almost like stepping into a time machine.

Vintage wrought-iron machines take up residence along the perimeter. Photographs from the shop’s early days and newspaper clippings line the walls, a chronicle of the Columbus company’s 134-year history.

The workbenches are piled high with annals waiting to be bound. Bookcases overflow with old jobs that were never picked up or paid for.

When you ask Skip Bowman, 63, what the oldest item in the shop is, he shoots a cheeky glance over to his dad, 83-year-old Ron.

“What are you looking at me for?” Ron quips back.

It’s not just the shop, though, that recalls images of a less-digital age —– it’s the craft of bookbinding itself.

The father-son duo have owned and operated Beck & Orr, located on West Broad Street on the Hilltop, since the 1950s. Although the business got its start Downtown, the shop has been a fixture of the Westgate area for nearly 40 years

Individual letters for embossing and foil stamping are stored in a drawer at Beck & Orr Book Binding on the Hilltop.

‘Just like we did in 1888’

Today, Beck & Orr specializes mostly in thesis binding for graduate students, foil stamping and embossing, and restoring antique books.

Given the labor-intensive nature of bookbinding, Beck & Orr has never tried to compete with large-scale binderies, even in its heyday. Sure, the shop has machines, Ron said, but nothing is automated.

The binding process at Beck & Orr depends on the need of the book, but every project is rooted in tradition.

“We’re doing it just like we did in 1888,” Skip said.

Most of the machinery is operated by hand. Skip sets all the typeface for embossing the finished products by hand. Every process, from stitching spines to creating the cardboard covers to foil stamping, is done — you guessed it — by hand.

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