Edward Kranz owns Erie’s Kranz Books Bindery to preserve and recreate books


Edward Kranz has always had artistic tendencies.

From his childhood in Erie he drew, painted and played the guitar.

Kranz, now 53, is also a skilled craftsman. He worked for years for his father’s construction company, which recently helped Erie-based Amerail Systems undertake exterior renovations at hotels across the country.

He then worked for over a decade as a mechanic and analyst for the Boeing Company in Everett, Washington.

It might be fitting if this description makes him look like a Renaissance man.

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Returning to Erie a few years ago, he started a new business reminiscent of the spirit of the Renaissance, often described as the rebirth of science and culture between 1400 and 1600.

It was at the beginning of this period that Johannes Gutenberg invented the mechanical movable type printing press. This invention made possible the publication and mass distribution of what was known as the Gutenberg Bible.

Kranz is a bookbinder and owner of Kranz Books Bindery, which he operates from the first floor of his home on Trask Avenue.

After Boeing eliminated his post a few years ago, Kranz began to turn to the art of bookbinding which had been his hobby for years.

It is no longer a hobby.

Restoring old books and producing new ones – mainly journals and wedding albums – is how he makes a living.

Edward Kranz, a resident of Erie, uses a large needle and thread to bind a replica of Gutenberg's Bible at his home in Erie.

There is no doubt that his two-story house is a factory. There is nothing quick about the assembly process. Handcrafted wooden benches perched on steel legs take up what might normally be the living room. Indirect light bathes the space in a warm glow.

His tools – including French-style hammers, heavy steel book presses, and one-of-a-kind paper liners made from chunks of bone – are a reminder that Kranz’s mission is to preserve history.

This desire to preserve the past is what started Kranz.

A few years ago he acquired a tattered set of “Letters from Hell”, a two-volume Christian novel published in 1866.

Kranz began to restore the book only to realize that it was outdated. He decided to put it aside until he mastered his craft. He’s working on it again now.

A detail of a bible that the bookbinder Edward Kranz is restoring.  The bible was originally printed in 1770 in Nuremberg, Germany.

In his main workspace, Kranz gently pulls out a Nuremberg Bible, printed in 1770, which he tries to restore, one page at a time.

He paid it $ 200, but expects it to eventually be worth $ 2,000 or more. The book, however, is a favorite project and Kranz said he would be happy to have it on his shelf.

Sometimes the story takes on a more personal form. Kranz said the Family Bibles, published between the early 1900s and the 1950s, are among his most common projects. The value, he said, comes from the personal connection, often including a few pages of handwritten family history on the back of many of these volumes.

Returning a book to the customer “feels really good,” he said. “First, I think I did a good job. Second, they now have a part of their family history that they can continue down the line. So, I kind of feel like I’m a part of. their family now. ”

In another room next to the kitchen, Kranz works not to preserve history, but to recreate it in a project that dates back to the earliest days of print.

A page from a replica of Gutenberg's Bible that Edward Kranz relates is shown at his home in Erie.

Kranz is in the midst of his second two-volume recreation of Gutenberg’s Bible, which was printed in Latin in the mid-1450s.

Another set, which uses scanned pages from the original, was produced in his shop while he worked alongside veteran bookbinder Michael Chrisman of Ohio.

While these volumes, valued at $ 6,500, are expected to ship to a customer soon, Kranz hopes to sell the second set for around $ 8,500.

This will feature a hand binding made from a special type of pigskin that has not been in common use for 500 years. Like the first set, the covers of these volumes are made of thin slabs of stained red oak that wrap hand-sewn pages.

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Kranz sews the top of the spine of a book with alternating blue and gold thread.  This book is a personal project that Kranz carries out in order to broaden specific skills.

To start

An early love of books might have helped Kranz move towards his current calling.

“I’ve always loved books,” he says. “I loved to read when I was younger.”

Later he would read for information.

He well remembers his burnt out Volkswagen Beetle and the “Idiot’s Guide” to repairs he found at the store. Within weeks, he had rebuilt the Beetle’s engine following the instructions in the book.

On December 1, bookbinder Edward Kranz, 53, shows a replica of Gutenberg's Bible that he has bound.

“The books were of value to me,” he said. “I could learn things from them.”

Customers have different reasons for bringing their books for restoration. For some, especially owners of old family Bibles, it is re-establishing that link with their family’s past.

Often, he says, the value of a book has little to do with the actual price.

Kranz said one of his most important restoration projects was to repair a cheap Bible that his wife’s stepfather had received from Alcoholics Anonymous more than 30 years earlier.

The Bible, filled with notes and signatures from people he had met in meetings over the years, was in a sorry state. But it was also a cherished chronicle of the owner’s sobriety.

“AA Bibles are extremely inexpensive,” Kranz said. “They’re meant to be disposable, but there was tremendous personal value built into this book.”

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Kranz said he invested between $ 400 and $ 500 in labor and materials in this well-used Bible.

“Of all the books I’ve written, this is the one I’m most proud of,” Kranz said.

Kranz, who has used up much of his savings to return from Washington to Erie, is still aware of his ability to make a living by binding and repairing books the old-fashioned way.

Special tools used for stamping gold and leather on books.

A whiteboard in one of the rooms in his shop gives a glimpse of what the next few months will look like, listing some of the projects he plans to work on. Upcoming work includes Bibles and volumes from the history of Erie County.

“I have a few (projects) going on at one point,” he said.

Kranz will also work to replenish its supply of hand-bound newspapers which sell for around $ 85. He sells the newspapers, some bound with handmade paper, in an online Etsy store

But the financial limits are apparent.

“Even though I deliver a book a week, it costs $ 150 to $ 500,” Kranz said. “What I hope is that I will go faster.”

In short, Kranz does not get rich, but he loves what he does, preserving history and an old book at the same time.

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Bookbinder Erie Edward Kranz shows off a damaged book he is restoring.  The illustrated book describing Erie County was published in 1896.

“I am able to apply my artistic skills. I am able to apply my crafting skills,” Kranz said. “The process is really a driving force for me. Every book I touch is different.”

Almost all of them can be improved upon if they don’t return to their original glory, he said.

“Unless the book is in ashes,” he said, “there’s usually something that can be done. “

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Contact Kranz:

  • Kranz Book Binding
  • 3850 Trask Ave., Erie
  • 814-218-3872
  • kranzbooks.com
  • By appointment only

Contact Jim Martin at 814-870-1668 or jmartin@timesnews.com. Follow him on twitter @ETNMartin.



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