Ian Barnes of Temple Bookbinders Limited, Oxford, has joined an exclusive club. He's been appointed 'Hand Bookbinder to Her Majesty The Queen' - just reward for a business that does much to support the glory of printed rare books.

However, we can tell the story behind Ian's business, which is split in two. On the AbeBooks marketplace, you will find rare and collectible books offered for sale by Temple Rare Books. If you visit their location in Headington, Oxford, then you will see the art of hand bookbinding in action - traditional materials, traditional tools, traditional methods.

The bookselling business began in 2009 but Ian's love affair with bookbinding is spread over many years and begins when he was looking for work after leaving school at the age of 16.

"I wanted to do something with my hands," said Ian. "I thought of carpentry but in the end I walked into a printers in Oxford called Henry Brooks. They were looking for an apprentice bookbinder - it was work with my hands and looked interesting. I didn't have a clue but I got the job and a four-year apprenticeship."

Ian studied hard and learned his craft but the printer went out of business. Ian spent the next nine years working at the Austin Rover car plant in Oxford. He came back to bookbinding in 1989 and spent the next five years with an Oxford bindery.

"I actually set up this business working from home," smiled Ian. "It took me a long time to acquire all the tools necessary for a bindery but with the help of an auction house I finally found everything I needed. You need three main pieces of machinery - a backing machine, which creates the joint, a large press, which compresses the book block together, and a board chopper, which is exactly what it sounds like.

"I started by binding a few books and taking them to book fairs where I started to pick up business from the book trade and private clients. At this point, I gave up my job in the bindery and went out on my own."

Temple Bookbinders has grown and grown. Today, there are nine members of staff varying in age from a 21-year-old trainee to a highly experienced bookbinder whose career began in the 1950s. Ian still works on the bench when he can. His wife, Pauline, has a 'front of house' role.

"Today my clients are anybody and everybody," said Ian. "Collectors, institutions, the book trade but also passing customers with an old family bible that they need repaired. It was a natural evolution to start the bookselling business - our goal is to offer the best possible copies available."

When asked about what books were currently being worked upon in the bindery, Ian replied: "Some CS Lewis books, a first edition of Darwin's Origin of Species, and some early books on cricket."

He believes there are only five or six other binderies in the UK operating at the same level although there are also a number of small one-man binding firms. "I've invested thousands on training the team but I have the problem that people don't tend to stay in the trade for long," said Ian.

Temple Bookbinders use traditional materials including calf and goat skin, vellum, linens and cloth. The work ranges from restoration to conservation and to making clam-shell boxes and slip cases to house the most precious volumes. Journals and periodicals can be bound into hard bindings. Paper that requires conservation or repair is also part of the service.


The Temple Rare Books Team

Ian Barnes (seated) pictured with his team at Temple Bookbinders.