What makes something art? It’s more than just a smear of paint or a blot of ink. Art tells a story. And perhaps no one tells that story better than The American Bookbinders Museum. As the only museum in North America dedicated to Western bookbinding, the institution explores the craft through historic and artistic lenses, through a series of exhibits they curate themselves.     

The intimate space, situated a few blocks away from home on Clementina Street, is filled with a surprising number of treasures. On display is an Imperial Arming Press from 1832, used to emboss designs on book covers and spines. There’s a 20th century Lying Press and Plough which was used to trim pages. And from the 1870s, an American Board Shear, a tool used in the U.S. to quickly and consistently cut book covers to size.

Industrial marvels that allowed for the mass production of books and turned them into household items. But before these machines were invented – and before bookbinding become a lucrative commercial business – artisans painstakingly performed these tasks by hand. A rare artform that is still practiced by a niche group of Bay Area artists.

For within the museum’s gift shop, you can find one-of-a-kind leather-bound journals. An assortment of classic tomes encased in custom-made covers. Delicate hand-marbled paper, boxes and scarves. All crafted by local artisans who create bespoke items for the discerning collector.

An institution perhaps like no other, The American Bookbinders Museum intentionally blurs the line between history and art, challenging you to view books in a new light. A unique museum that could only ever be found in a place like Yerba Buena Gardens.

The American Bookbinders Museum is open Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a max capacity of 28 people. Currently on display is a special exhibit, “Celebrating the 19th Amendment: Suffragists in Print,” which is free and accessible to the public. The museum will be closed on Thanksgiving and will resume normal operations for Black Friday.