In 1905, Milo Faulkner established Faulkner’s Book Bindery, a small business that repairs and binds books. He would take a train across Indiana, tools in tow, and bind books at courthouses, state departments and the like, on-site.
More than 100 years later, Faulkner’s Book Bindery welcomed a fourth-generation to the family business in Carmel resident Conner Faulkner, who has been involved for four years. Together with his dad, Chris Faulkner, a book binder for more than three decades, they travel throughout the state and provide book bindery services to more than 50 Indiana counties. Chris Faulkner learned the skill from his dad, Jim Faulkner, and taught his son.
Conner Faulkner, 28, typically works in the southern Indiana counties, while Chris Faulkner, who lives in Tipton County, focuses on the northern ones. The company has expanded to take clients in bordering counties in Illinois and Ohio.
“My great-great grandfather carried that tradition on and then taught his son, my dad’s dad, and then my dad and his brother both learned from my grandfather,” Conner Faulkner said, “Growing up, I was homeschooled, and so I went with my dad to work very frequently. I learned the ropes from my dad and the opportunity presented itself after college.”
As one of five children, Conner Faulkner attributes his interest and desire to continuing the family business to being the most like his dad, in looks and personality. The two share a love for history, have a creative side and enjoy working with their hands.
“The opportunity just opened up after college that I could apprentice with my dad and so I jumped at the chance to follow in my dad’s footsteps,” Conner Faulkner said.
Chris Faulkner said it was a “natural progression” when he joined the family business.
“I’d seen a lot of different cities and some of the things that were out there,” Chris Faulkner said. “I wanted to go to a familiar location and the business was there for me, ready to come back and put my work ethic into it and expand it.”
Even in a changing digital landscape, Chris Faulkner — who played two seasons in the NFL before joining the family business — believes book binding services will continue to fill a need for years to come.
“I believe with Conner, we’ll do fine,” Chris Faulkner said. “(He will) possibly even pass it on to one of his children. It’s been a great business because I’ve had so much flexibility as a husband and father.”
Even though the business is more than 100 years old, book bindery practices and tools haven’t changed much over the decades. A big difference is that Conner and Chris Faulkner drive around the state in their own vehicles instead of hitching a ride on the train.
“We do all the work by hand and carry all of our equipment with us. We travel to the county and work on the books in the courthouse,” Conner Faulkner said. “This is nice for the officeholders because they don’t have to send out the books for months on end. It saves the county money on the back end, the books never leave the courthouse. We bring our tools with us. We find a basement or small room that we can set up a table.”
The Faulkners primarily work for county recorders, auditors, treasurers, surveyors and clerks. Another chunk of their business covers health departments, binding birth and death records.
“No book is too big or too small,” Conner Faulkner said.
The Faulkners bind books using animal hide glue, which is a flexible and durable substance that was used to make books in the early 1800s.
“We like to use the same materials, Irish linen thread,” Conner Faulkner said. “We think that that’s better for the books, not only structurally, but it’s also better for the books historically to use similar or even the same materials that the books were made with. Everything’s done pretty much by hand, and that’s how it’s always been.”
Looking ahead, Conner Faulkner hopes to continue in this line of work and make a career out of it, just like the Faulkner men ahead of him did.
“My dad is a big role model for me, and so it’s not a surprise to me that I ended up in his line of work,” he said. “He’s been doing it for 35 years, and my great grandpa did it until he could no longer walk up the courthouse steps. Then he finally retired. It’s a job that my dad doesn’t see himself retiring from anytime soon, and he’s 64. So I definitely see it as an occupation for life.”
Learning the skills
Conner Faulkner earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from Liberty University and worked at a BBQ restaurant his mom owns after graduating.
A few years later, he apprenticed with his dad to officially learn how to bind books and join the family business.
He said a unique aspect to working for a book bindery business is having no true office, as he works wherever the books are.
“We just have our equipment with us in our car,” he said. “A large part of our job is driving and traveling to the counties.”