True artisanship can be hard to find, but this Berkeley bookbinding business is a throwback to the days when craftspeople paid attention to detail and paper products weren’t mass-produced on an assembly line.
It’s not often we come across two businesses run by the same craftsman. But here on Bancroft Way, in Berkeley California, Pettingells Bookbindery serves as both a working studio and a retail and e-commerce shop, known as Florentine Collections
Klaus Rotzscher loves what he does.
When you walk into Pettingell Book Bindery, he is generally there, in the back. His customers open the door, as the little bell jingles, and step into the quiet space filled to the brim with stacks of paper, material samples and machinery. Quite often they get a big wave and a gentle smile. For being so close to the Berkeley campus where the streets are bustling with students on their way to classes, his shop is quite unsuspecting, however, his studio has the old world feel of a museum; many of his tools date back well over a century and are irreplaceable.
Klaus Rotzscher is a German born and university-trained master bookbinder who has worked at the craft for four decades. His meticulous work can be found in every page he puts together; custom, unique and lasting for generations. He began his career in Leipzig in the 1970s as an apprentice, before serving as a journeyman for four years and graduating in Munich with two master’s degrees in bookbinding. “I came to the US (in 1980) because I had a job offer as a bookbinder in San Francisco,” he states. He bought the Berkeley bookbindery in 1994, which was originally founded by Luis Pettengill in 1926.
Bookbinding is a time-honored craft, rooted in specialized knowledge of process, materials, and machinery. There are generally 22 distinct steps involved with binding a book. Much of his work is restoring heirloom books, such as old family bibles. When restoring a book, he always attempts to work with what is left of the old binding and to maintain the integrity and aesthetic of the book’s original appearance. In this painstaking labor of love, he preserves as much of the cover as possible, and works with the owner to choose boards, end papers, covers, spines, stitching styles and ornamentation He offers a vast selection of paper, cloth and leather, as well as a choice of more than 50 printing fonts. A master craftsman, he has the vision and experience with books that make possible the painstaking process of breathing life back into an heirloom.
These days, Pettingell’s shop serves as both a working studio and a retail space, where customers can browse Klaus’ pre-made products, his Florentine Collections – beautiful handmade books, and journals in smooth Italian leather, handsome marbled notepads, elegant portfolios, and accessories or order custom made products. Klaus tells the tale, “ Pettingell was there first, I started Florentine Collections about three years ago as my retirement. By that I mean, after I am done with the bookbindery, which I have done now for 44 years. Both are at the same location. It gives me the possibility of being creative and realize my own ideas and aesthetics. “
The Florentine Collections combines European design and craftsmanship with a contemporary dynamic. He believes form, style, and quality are the keys to creating items to be treasured for generations to come.
“I love Florence and amongst other vendors from that region, I like the Rossi line of papers very much. I found Rossi several years ago online searching for nice decorative papers.”
His creations are quite stunning: “I use Rossi paper to bind books, both on the inside and outside. The sheer variety of decorative paper is very captivating so, it is hard to choose some times which one to use. Since most of my articles are not that large in size, I tend to use mostly paper with small designs. “
The craftsmanship that goes into Klaus’ Florentine Collection blank books is unparalleled; bound in fine European leather, marked with a marbled edge that adorns all three sides with color and artistry.
“The marbled edge is done after the sewing and trimming of the book. I have a very good marbler in Florence doing it for me. The leather bound books are (once the book block is sewn and trimmed and no cover is yet applied) dipped into the tray which holds the liquid with color (marble).”
“No matter the project, I do the best I can do to make my customers happy and create an amazing finished product.”
For him it truly is about the love of doing a good job with the skills and knowledge that he has.
When asked what holds the future, he replied, “I wish I knew. I hope my Florentine Collections becomes quite successful and I can expand my customer base.” And will retirement take him back to Bavaria? “Germany is lovely to visit, after all, it was my home. But I am firmly rooted in the Bay Area and have no intention to move. “
Here is a review from a patron:
“I came to Pettingell’s to have copies of my doctoral dissertation bound, so I could give one to my dad, who had dutifully lived long enough to witness my graduation, and one for myself, to honor my completion of this arduous 10 year passage. I’m relieved and grateful to know there are still fine, old school artisans such as Klaus, who do the equivalent of illuminating individual manuscripts by hand, laboring under candlelight like a monk with a quill pen, gold leaf, and magnifying glass. In this age of desktop publishing, and instant gratification in which we find ourselves…..he did a beautiful job, from the binding to the titles. I left my lifework in the right hands. “.