Christopher Hoffmann, Eighteenth Century Schwenkfelder Bookbinder

The major occupation of the Schwenkfelder immigrants was farming. A few had one or more avocations. Christopher Hoffmann was a farmer and his avocations were school teacher, pastor, copyist, and bookbinder.

As a six-year-old, Christopher accompanied his grandmother, father, mother and two older sisters on the 22 week trek from Berthelsdorf, Saxony (where he was born), to Pennsylvania. Nothing is known about his childhood or even his teen years. His father, Balthasar, was no doubt the person who taught him to read and write, imparting to him a love for books.

As a rather young man, I would think, he was trained in the art of bookbinding and soon become the bookbinder for the Schwenkfelder community in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately no clue has been found about who trained him in this trade. When he purchased land in 1752, he was already dubbed “the Bookbinder”. While in Europe the Schwenkfelders were prohibited from publishing because they were seen as heretics. Their writings existed only in manuscript form, which, from time to time, were bound by a bookbinder. Nor has any evidence been found that a bookbinder was among the Pennsylvania immigrants. Yet a need for a bookbinder in the community was evident. Old books needed repair and new manuscripts needed bindings. In some cases multiple copies of a particular title were needed. One example is the “Daily Songbook”, a short, abridged hymnal. Every family needed at least one copy, and Schwenkfelder scriveners such as Hans Christopher Heebner and Christopher Hoffmann produced many copies of this staple.

Hoffmann Binding The Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center has at least two hundred books bound by Christopher Hoffmann. Reflective of Schwenkfelder modesty and humility Hoffmann’s bindings are easily spotted. The leather is plain brown. The design is very simple: two parallel lines 1/8 inch apart on top, bottom and front edges. The back edge has two sets of these parallel lines about 3/8 inch apart. Some books have a small, decorative spray stamp in the four corners. Other has a tiny decoration applied probably by a wheel tool along the thin border line.

Hoffmann was the binder for three major Schwenkfelder book publishing projects. While exact numbers are not known, each project must have required the binding of more than a hundred copies. The first of these was the 1762 Schwenkfelder hymnal; the second was the 1763 catechism, and the last was the 1771 Vindication of Caspar Schwenckfeld.

There is no evidence that Hoffmann had any assistants or apprentices. No one is known to have taken over Hoffmann’s binding business one he retired or died. Interestingly Hoffmann did write a manual describing most if not all the procedures he applied when binding books. The manual would seem to be a resource for someone learning the trade, but the single extant copy in his handwriting bears no sign of even slight use. This book is a rare manual of bookbinding in colonial Pennsylvania.

I am always intrigued by the little scraps of paper I often find in our eighteenth century books. Some of the more interesting ones are the fees that Hoffmann charged for his services. Normally his bills conHoffmann Binding Charges_1tain two charges: one for materials and another for labor. The bill below shows the changes for a postil (a book of sermons) and for hymnals. The material for the postil cost 12 schillings and 5 pence; the binding was 7 schillings and 9 pence because the book was already “hammered” (process in binding), otherwise the cost would have been 8 schillings (3 pence more). The material for the hymnals cost 7 schillings 10 pence; the binding was 4 schilling 6 pence.

As researcher and cataloger I am always finding curious and interesting scraps of paper and other curiosities stuck into these old books in our collection. These items often give us insight into the people who once owned them or had them in their hands, which we would otherwise not have.

Allen Viehmeyer
Associate Director for Research

About schwenkfelder

We are a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and interpreting the history of the Schwenkfelders and the history of southeastern Pennsylvania and the Perkiomen Region. The Heritage Center offers educational programming and tours, exhibits, workshops, and events throughout the year. Our blog is maintained by museum educator, Rebecca Lawrence, SLHC staff and guest bloggers.
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