Kensington: Old-Fashioned Book-Binding Business Keeps Family Together

Laura Curbelo and Manny Toro worked together to create banner ads for Michael's craft store.]

Small production book binding companies are dwindling in Philadelphia due largely to advances in technology leading to larger production facilities. Even fewer of the remaining small book binding businesses are the family owned companies where owners and workers have stuck together for decades.

Laura Curbelo and Manny Toro worked together to create banner ads for Michael's craft store.

Allen Geiser and Son Inc., located at 3237 Amber St., began 33 years ago as a family-owned book-binding company and continues that special status. Although the founder of the company has died, his legacy lives through the work of his family.

The founder’s son, Allen Geiser, is the vice president and treasurer, overseeing all of the work done with clients. The founder’s daughter, Sandy Craig, is the executive producer, overseeing all of the work being done by the staff. The mother is the president of the company and makes sure all of the work is done correctly.

A handful of employees are not related to the founder, like Sis Rodgers, Laura Curbelo and Manny Toro. But regardless of relationship to the founder those working at the company consider themselves full members of this family owned business because they’ve been together for so long.

There are eight employees working for Allen Geiser and Son Inc.

In Philadelphia there are about 20 companies involved with printing. However, unlike small binding companies like Geiser, most companies have shifted into modern technology and keep away from older machines that only allow for producing small quantities.

Allen Geiser and Son Inc. works with a number of university and medical companies. The bulk of their work deals with creating larger journals in those fields.

The Geiser firm makes its own covers, spines, stamps and sew or paste it all together for the finished product.

Today it is nearly impossible in Philadelphia to find a company that does work in the same manner as Allen Geiser and Son Inc. The company specializes in a step-by-step process set up like an assembly line.

Making books is not the only thing done in the company. The firm also puts special foil stamps on book covers, creates printed banner ads for companies such as Michael’s craft stores, yearbooks for school and also they do delicate book restorations without machinery.

Manny Toro used a hammer to help round out the book he had running in a special machine.

The most tedious work to be done is small collections of hand-sewn books.

Sandy Craig said, “I can only do about six or seven of those a year.” However, given a machine and the process is quicker.

Sis Rodgers can put together a 1,000-page medical journal in no time at all. “Some books take me a half hour, some books take me an hour depending on how thick the book is,” Rodgers said.

Craig  said, “If I were going to do 10,000 books, I wouldn’t do it here. But if I am only going to do six books, I’m going to do it on equipment that doesn’t take a day to set up.”

To run a larger quantity job in Philadelphia, a client would need to use a mass production printing company such as RR Donnelley, located at Red Lion and Gantry Roads. RR Donnelley branches out to large corporations nationally and internationally reaching out to 38 different countries.

One press run would publish over 10,000 copies. The equipment is high-tech and located in large facilities. Large firms like Donnelley would not be able to do any of the work that Allen Geiser and Sons does nor service the community in the same way.

Reasons like that make small, family-owned businesses in Philadelphia neighborhoods flourish. Individual clients such as a person wishing to have an old Bible restored would have no where else to go.

In Kensington, there are not other places to go for book binding and restorations. There is a larger company made for mass production, Smith-Edwards-Dunlap Co., located at 2867 East Allegheny Ave. This company, similar to RR Donnelley, is not a place local residents can receive services on smaller projects.

Sis Rodgers completed sewing a book on her machine in just minutes.

The office building where Allen Geiser Inc. resides in has new owners and they are ready for a change.

“Because bookbinding is an old craft and an old trade,” Geiser said. “That’s something they would like to promote as a way to attract craftsmen as a way to come into this vicinity and rent space from them.”

The Allen Geiser and Son firm knows the importance of keeping its business alive so that there is still a place for people to go. Without the company there would not be any places in Kensington for the community to have the enjoyment of keeping up with maintaining old books.]

1 Comment

  1. I have an McGuffey’s Reader. The book is still bound but some of the leather end cap is coming off, some of it is already gone. How can I save this binding. the end cap may be paper I don’t know.

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