Mary MacArthur and Danny Lineham

Getting a hand on books

In the age of e-books, a Ponoka-based couple have built a business making paper books by hand.

In the age of e-books, a Ponoka-based couple have built a business making paper books by hand.

Mary MacArthur and Danny Lineham, the owners of Those Great Little Books, operate their own digital printing press and do their own hand bindings. They turn out small editions runs of Alice in Wonderland, Treasure Island, Huckleberry Finn and other classics.

Lineham occasionally hears comments about how e-books must be hard on business — but in fact, he believes the opposite is true.

Even people who read from computer screens have their favourite story, and when they decide to buy a paper copy, they are more likely to want it to be special, he added.

The books he and MacArthur make look tactile and handmade instead of slick and mass-produced and customers seem to appreciate the difference.

“I once heard someone say that when something is made by hand, it contains a little bit of the somebody who made it,” said Lineham, who fell into the book-making business with his wife about 15 years ago.

Lineham bought MacArthur a paper-making kit for Christmas in 1996 while they were living in New Zealand. It sat on a shelf for about six months before she decided to crack it open.

It turned out that MacArthur loved making the textural paper so much, that she became something of a one-woman factory. The question then became “what are we going to do with all this paper?” recalled Lineham, an Edmonton native.

The couple decided to try making books. MacArthur studied several hand-binding techniques, including the Coptic weave first developed by Christian priests in Egypt. It allows books to be opened flat.

And Lineham began trying out different typefaces to print pithy or meaningful quotes about love, women, cats, friendship, and moms on acid-free, partially recycled paper.

The books caught on so well at gift shows that, about seven years ago, they started reprinting stories that are in the public domain.

And customers began snapping up their editions of favourites, by Lewis Carroll, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, and their best-seller, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore.

The couple moved their business to Mexico briefly before locating to Vancouver Island. But they found most of their sales came from Alberta.

After researching various communities in this province, MacArthur and Lineham decided to relocate to Ponoka because of its central location, historic downtown and picturesque river valley. They opened the Siding 14 Art and Fine Craft Gallery, which is also home to Those Great Little Books, on 50th Street.

They are now in the busy pre-Christmas season of attending gift shows across Western Canada with a display booth full of books in the $9 to $75 range. Their “new” titles include Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, with vintage illustrations, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Although the couple buys most of their paper, the tomes printed by Lineham still have handmade paper covers and a strong string binding woven by MacArthur, who grew up in Ontario.

She believes the business is timely because of society’s growing appreciation of things with a personal touch, including scrapbooking.

“I really enjoy meeting people, and it’s so rewarding when you finish a book and it looks so great,” said MacArthur, who last worked on copies of Dracula, with a black cover and red visible cording along the open spine.

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