Sarah Stahl has been the owner of the Cologne bookbindery Mensch since 2010. At the end of November 2019, the master bookbinder put our new PräLeg XS casing-in machine and the PräForm XS for pressing books into operation. In the interview, she reveals what prompted her to take this step and describes her experiences.
Note: this interview originally appeared in German and was translated.
What is your first impression?
Sarah Stahl: "So far I am very happy with the machines. We started directly with a difficult material (silk velvet), which you're not really allowed to touch, but you have to. Conclusion: it worked well. The very thin application of glue holds even on the voluminous material. Fabric tapes with straight backs are almost easy to hang. Manual casing-in is not necessarily easy when you learn it. Now the work is done without having to adjust anything. I have also hung a few magazines with round backs. Here we or I still need some practice so that it really looks perfect. I could have done it better manually, at least on the first try. But that's not a bad thing. Practice makes perfect."
What advantages do the new machines bring?
Sarah Stahl: "Due to the very thin glue application, we don't need to put any separating cardboard between the endpapers and the book block when drying, because less moisture gets into the book. That saves time and material. We'll see if it always works out that way. With the 100 or so books, that was fine. But you have to work pretty much in sync and mustn't be disturbed so that the books aren't in the PräForm XS too long, otherwise the edges stick too much. So the glue application is still something we have to play with. But again, that depends on the material. We also have to increase the distance between our folds a bit, then they can be pressed in more nicely. It's also great that you can reduce the temperature. Not every material tolerates heat!"
How satisfied are you with our service (advice, purchase, etc.)?
Sarah Stahl: "Of course, we also found the personal introduction by Mr Jörn Schmedt and Mr Gossen great, who also fixed a problem with our gluing machine on the side. That gives security. Ultimately, this is exactly what I appreciate about Schmedt: You have personal contact with the employees/bosses and are received at eye level - whether you make 1,000 euros in sales there or much more! So far, I've always been helped when I've had problems, and things don't always run smoothly with our gluing machine, which is our most important machine. Even when we had small change requests (adjusting screws), our wishes were taken into account - often simply in exchange for the previous part! In addition, they always deliver quickly and reliably, which is of course also important for our customers."
What made you decide to purchase the two machines?
Sarah Stahl: "On the one hand, the Schmedt XS series is wonderful in terms of space - like many other small businesses, we don't have much space and are stacking world champions - on the other hand, the machines are of course very interesting in terms of price! We can't easily invest for several 10,000 euros. My colleague and I have to work very hard physically to earn our bread and I have vowed to make things easier for ourselves if possible, so that we can still be standing there in 20 years' time (hopefully without much physical discomfort). My apprentice wants to learn the classic casing-in, and she will, but Nina and I won't have to. So in short: I wanted relief for us. In addition, with the machines I reckon that in the medium term I will also be able to offer somewhat larger runs at a reasonable price."
When did bookbindery Mensch come into existence?
Sarah Stahl: "I took over bookbindery Mensch from Bruno Mensch in 2010. Before that, I worked there for two years. Mr Mensch took over the bookbindery in 1993 from Mrs Winz-Bücher, who in turn took it over from her parents. We estimate that the bookbindery has existed since the early 1900s, but we have no proof of this. In 2012 I moved to a shop with a storefront in Cologne's Südstadt - in 2018 I unfortunately had to move again because the old landlord had exciting rental ideas. Now at Barbarossaplatz we have hopefully arrived and feel very comfortable."
What is your focus?
Sarah Stahl: "Actually, we offer everything a bookbinder can do - except picture framing. We try to respond flexibly and individually to our customers' wishes and deliver on time. We bind books in classic materials, but we are not afraid of challenges (for example, a book that we have covered with a foil that is usually used to cover a refrigerator). We emboss and punch and make boxes for storage, presentation or as decorative packaging. We also make folders and binders and repair old treasures. We make editions of 1, but also editions of 500 or more - it depends a bit on what is required. At some point there is a limit to our capacity. We also make partial products and finish a photo book, for example."
What distinguishes bookbindery Mensch?
Sarah Stahl: "For us, the focus is on people and the product. No matter whether that is the employee or the customer. Customers often give the heart of their business into other people's hands and we are then supposed to save it or bind it anew. To do this, we have to convey openness and honesty and, of course, professional competence. We love our profession and we are told again and again that it shows. It is important to me that we produce the best possible product for our customers. At least from the possibilities we are given. That is not always easy and you also have to make compromises, but the attempt is always there. That's why consultation is always a very important part for us. Unfortunately, it is also the most ineffective part, because it is not paid for and costs a lot of time. I would sometimes wish that bookbinders were not regarded as handicraftsmen, but as craftsmen who have passed a journeyman's and master's examination. Fortunately, the people who come to us usually appreciate our work."