Built to Last: A Charles P. Holden Job Backer

Still used today at the Boston Athenaeum.

charles p holden job backer

Photograph by Toan Trinh

Boston has been a publishing-industry hotbed from as far back as Colonial times. In 1765, when the Brits imposed the Stamp Act—a fee levied on all printed materials—our ancestors went berserk, churning out rabble-rousing broadsheets in protest. A century later, a new breed of intellectual elites and technologies transformed the business of books in Boston seemingly overnight.

With demand for specialized parts and technicians skyrocketing, the publishing boom of the mid-1800s birthed a slew of new businesses to service publishers. Among them was Charles P. Holden, a company located on Atlantic Avenue that made and sold presses, folding machines, paper cutters, and just about any other piece of equipment a bookmaker could need. Craftsmen used the device featured here, a Charles P. Holden job backer, to help shape books’ spines at a time when publications were still bound by hand.

Today, it’s still used by conservationists at the Boston Athenaeum, home to a vast number of rare and ancient texts. Antique tools come in handy for maintaining vintage volumes: “Nobody really makes job backers anymore,” Dawn Walus, the Athenaeum’s chief conservator, says. “That’s why we got really old ones.”

Where to See It: The Boston Athenaeum Conservation Laboratory