9 February 2023

Malt whisky brand The Macallan has launched a programme to help preserve craftsmanship in a wide range of sectors. It has called the programme, which has total funding of £260,000, the Artisan Apprenticeship Fund, writes Leatherbiz.


Shepherds Bookbinders


At the start of February, it named four companies as initial beneficiaries of the fund, including Shepherds Bookbinders. The London-based hand bookbinding business will receive a £60,000 share of the Artisan Apprenticeship Fund to help it train an existing member of staff to become a journeyman bookbinder.

Under the guidance of expert bookbinder Jonathan Powell, the apprentice will learn all the key skills, including the binding of books in leather and gold-leaf finishing.

Shepherds has told leatherbiz that it works only with vegetable-tanned leathers, chiefly goatskin and calfskin. “The leather has to be naturally tanned,” the company explained, “so that it is supple and has a soft surface suitable for tooling in gold leaf in the traditional way.”

Its craftspeople pare the leather edges by hand, using a spokeshave and an edge-paring knife to ensure the corners and turn-ins of book covers are neat and smooth. These must be bump-free to make the decorative tooling on the corners fully effective.

All of these traditional skills will now be passed on to the new apprentice thanks to the funding from The Macallan. The three-year apprenticeship will involve dedicated training days at the bench at the Shepherds workshop in Wiltshire, as well as undertaking college courses in bookbinding. The new apprentice will also have weekly work experience days in the company’s bindery in London, plus three external visits to relevant institutions and binderies each year.

Shepherds Bookbinders managing director, Alison Strachan, commented: “The traditional skills we require of our bookbinders are wide-ranging and complex, and this funding will allow us to fully train a young person in all aspects of the craft. The Artisan Apprenticeship Fund is a fantastic initiative, and we are so grateful to The Macallan for helping us to ensure these skills will continue to thrive.”

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