It didn’t take long for Sam Ives to change direction, from archaeology after college to where he stands now: on the doorstep of taking the reins from his father, Tom Ives, making the New Hampshire Book Bindery a third-generation family business.
Ives’s curiosity about ancient culture quickly faded once he rolled up his sleeves and mastered the finer points of book restoration. He says he’s more than ready to take over.
“I knew from the beginning that I was going to own this company,” Sam said. “Maybe not from the very first day, but definitely after a little while. Dad was driven to keep us all together and it’s what I wanted to do.”
Tom Ives, 68, continues to run a place that can change a tattered bible into a glistening piece of art. That’s what convinced Sam to join the team. Customers have cried after receiving their bibles back, shedding tears of joy and nostalgia, according to this father-son team.
Tom said he won’t retire for, “a couple of years.” The family prides itself on showing pride in their work. Detailed, golden, covers and pages crisp and bright.
Tom has some pretty impressive credentials these days, saying that the NH Book Bindery is the lone such business in the country. Three others, Tom said, restore books for personal and business uses.
They must be doing something right, because his customers are everywhere. “Oakland, California; Florida; Manitoba, Canada,” Tom said.
He started working for the man who began this linear business connection, his father, Wilfred Ives, in 1972. Tom was a junior in high school, and those two decades before he bought the business from Wilfred proved to be the ideal learning tool, absorbing all the nooks and crannies of knowledge involved with book restoration.
The business was sold to Tom after he expressed frustration that his father was not reinvesting in the company. Tom pulled the old squeeze play, telling Wilfred that he was leaving the business to branch out on his own.
“I bought equipment even though I had no money, but I was determined,” remembered Tom. “(Wilfred) said, ‘Let’s work this out.’ I don’t think he expected me to take over, but he was happy I did.”
In those early days, Tom described middle-aged women working at benches, sewing, gluing, coloring. He saw the writing on the wall spelled out clearly, that technology was going to bite into businesses, reducing staff and wiping out entire entities.
So he invested, $170,000 for a sewing machine and $100,000 for a new casing machine, plus $500,000 on another machine.
“I could have said no to a new sewing machine,” Tom said.
But he was looking ahead. These days, Tom’s reputation is booming through a contract that allows him to purchase books signed by a celebrated author, making them into classics and earning more money for the business. He once sold the book, “Misery,” with Stephen King’s signature on each.
This is the world Sam Ives will inherit in two years, maybe three, maybe more. Meanwhile, his skills have evolved to the point that even his father has to take a back seat to his son’s craftsmanship.
“He does all the book restoring now,” Tom said. “I taught him and he is very good. Better than me. If a bible is falling apart, he will put it together and create a beautiful book.”
In fact, that’s why Sam left archaeology in favor of, in a sense, going home. To family. He’s good at what he does and darn proud that he’s keeping the flame alive.
He pointed at shelves of books. They were his, the ones he had finished, each with glue and color and gilding keeping the book alive and in fact making it look much better.
“I earned this,” Sam said. “See right there, those 2,000? I did them by myself.”