The History of Old English Bindery and John Smart Bookbinders

John Smart Bookbinders is a family business with a long tradition in bookbinding dating back to the early 1900s.   Specializing in restoration since the 1930s, the present company was started by Charles E. Smart, and is now owned and run by his son John Smart and grandson Richard Smart.  Both are well-known throughout the national and international book-selling trade, and amongst antiquarian book collectors for the production of high quality restoration of antique books & documents.

Charles E. Smart began a seven-year apprenticeship on May 20th, 1920 in the binding department of Thomas & Sons Ltd. London. He completed his apprenticeship in April 1927; this was to be the start of a career in the bookbinding trade. Shortly after, he moved to a large bindery, Zaehnsdorf’s in London, where he specialized in restoration of antique books and paper. C. E. Smart pursued his career by moving to F. Sangorski & G. Sutcliffe’s as a restorer of antique books.  Both of these companies are now trading under the same company renamed as SSZ.

In the late 1930s, Charles E. Smart set up on his own as C.E. Smart Bookbinder. Simultaneously, Francis Smart, his wife, was a reputable paper restorer at Riviere’s of London.  She later assisted C. E. Smart in his business. Charles began working for the antiquarian book trade where he built up his business, a business that he had no idea was going to turn into three generations of bookbinders that are still trading with some of the same companies that supplied work to C.E. Smart half a century ago.

In 1961 at the age of 55, C.E. Smart passed away leaving John Smart running the company. In 1962 C.E. Smart became C.E. Smart Ltd., and in 1963 John Smart sought out larger premises away from Brockley London. He was at this location for the next three years with an increase of trade, and again found the need for a larger property.  In 1967, he moved in to Lewisham London.  Throughout the following years, he worked very hard, and with the help of existing customers John Smart reached a very high and respected standard within his field.  His well-known standard of craftsmanship allowed him many opportunities in the field.  He was asked to lecture at the Camberwell College of Arts, which he did for many years. During this period, he taught two outstanding students, and upon their graduation, diploma in hand, they went to work in Lewisham for C.E. Smart Ltd. Bookbinders. John Smart traded for many years at this address as C.E. Smart Ltd. building a world-wide reputation until 1979.

In 1982, it was decided that it was no longer necessary for C.E. Smart Ltd. to be a limited company, thus the name was changed to John Smart Bookbinders. It was not until 1988 that Richard Smart decided follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, and learn the trade of antiquarian book restoration.  At this point, there were no full time courses left on restoration, only workshops and evening classes, so it was decided that John Smart would teach Richard Smart to a proficient standard of restoration. With ten years’ experience working along side his father, Richard developed his skills in the restoration and conservation of paper, documents, and new & fine bindings.

In the year 2000, Richard Smart relocated to Vancouver, British Columbia Canada, and founded Old English Bindery. Richard’s accomplished craftsmanship is sought out by rare book dealers, collectors, museums and archives.  With extended studies is gold-finishing via Sangorski & Sutcliffe in London, UK, his expertise lies in creating fine and period bindings.

Richard’s skill set has afforded him opportunities of a wide range, including original, handcrafted designer bindings for clients such as Charlton Heston, Hunter S. Thompson, and Mark Mothersbaugh.  In 2005, he was commissioned by the Government of Canada and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs to bind the Seventh Book of Remembrance, commemorating Canadian Service men and women whose deaths are attributable to military service.

‘We spend time with Richard Smart, a third generation bookbinder, to learn more about his passion for his ancient trade.’ – TELUS Optik Local