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[BKARTS] Chicago Binder Ed Lhotka dies. (from Chicago Tribune)

Obituaries Edward R. Lhotka: 1910 - 2007
 Bookbinder helped past live on

The longtime R.R. Donnelley & Sons employee's work kept centuries-old 
traditions alive and ensured that decaying manuscripts would survive for future gene
 By Trevor Jensen | Tribune staff reporter
 September 12, 2007

 Edward R. Lhotka started his apprenticeship as a bookbinder at R.R. 
Donnelley & Sons at age 14 and stayed with the Chicago publisher for 48 years, 
becoming a master artisan who taught his craft to subsequent generations of 

The author of a text on bookbinding, Mr. Lhotka continued into his early 90s 
to use centuries-old techniques to restore old books, some of them rare and 
worth millions of dollars, in the basement workshop of his Berwyn bungalow.

Mr. Lhotka, 97, died Monday, Sept. 10, in Lexington Health Care Center in 
Lombard, said his stepdaughter, Joyce Sustr.

While still a teenager living on the South Side, Mr. Lhotka learned his trade 
under Alfred de Sauty, a noted British bookbinder who came to the U.S. to 
manage the bindery at Donnelley early in the 20th Century. Upon de Sauty's 
retirement in 1935, Mr. Lhotka became assistant manager of the publisher's 
fine-binding department, a position he held until his retirement in 1972.

The "extra bindery" at Donnelley did work for museums and libraries around 
the country. Among works that came through the bindery was a hand-printed copy 
of the Declaration of Independence.

For much of his career, Mr. Lhotka led classes in book restoration at 
Donnelley. After his retirement, he continued to work with apprentices who came to 
his Berwyn home to learn the bookbinder's trade.

A wood-paneled room with a small bar toward the front of his basement served 
as Mr. Lhotka's tidy workplace. A single workbench held presses and sewing 
frames, many of a design dating to the Middle Ages, said Barbara Korbel, a 
student of Mr. Lhotka in the 1980s who is now collection conservator at the Newberry 
Library in Chicago.

On a small gas stove, Mr. Lhotka heated glue and wheat-flour based pastes of 
his own making. Many of his tools were made in the workshop, said another 
former student, Thomas Re.

"There wasn't a lot of fancy stuff," Korbel said.

Mr. Lhotka restored old Bibles for families and churches, usually asking a 
pittance considering the quality of his work, Sustr said. He was also hired by 
museums, libraries and private collections across the country to restore rare 
treasures. He rebuilt broken bindings, cleaned sullied illustrations and 
hand-tooled designs on worn-out leather covers.

"I was in his basement when he'd be doing work on a million-dollar book," 
said Re, who recalled seeing a 14th or 15th Century book of vellum maps in the 

"They have no choice," the self-deprecating Mr. Lhotka would say of getting 
such commissions. "There's no one else around to do it."

Mr. Lhotka provided a bridge to an era of a craft that no longer exists, his 
students and colleagues said.

"He certainly had a kind of training that's no longer available," said Paul 
Gehl, a curator at the Newberry. "He trained at a time when it was a standard 
craft in the book world."

Known for the clarity with which he translated his practical experience into 
lessons for students, Mr. Lhotka's book, "ABC of Leather Bookbinding; A Manual 
for Traditional Craftsmanship," was published about seven years ago.

"He was a very good and gifted craftsman, and also a very giving teacher," 
said David Chandler, chief conservator for works of art on paper at the Chicago 
Conservation Center.

As far as his family knows, Mr. Lhotka never went to high school. But he was 
widely read on subjects that included history, government, nature and 
photography, said his nephew, Richard Becker. His eyesight started to fail him in his 
90s, even as he continued to do occasional work.

"He could do so much of this by feel," Becker said.

Mr. Lhotka's first wife, Irene, died in the early 1970s. They lived for many 
years in Westchester. He remarried and moved to Berwyn in 1973. His second 
wife, Georgia, died two years ago.

Other survivors include a stepson, Charles Nevaril, and a niece, Arlene 

Visitation will be held from 3 to 8 p.m. Wednesday in Linhart Funeral Home, 
6820 W. Cermak Rd., Berwyn. Mass will be said at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in St. 
Odilo Catholic Church, 2244 East Ave., Berwyn.


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