Svensson, J. Folke ( Sacramento, CA)
Folke J. Svensson
Folke Jonatan Svensson was born in Lysekil, Sweden on Jan 1, 1914. He grew up
in Molndal, a small city south of Gothenburg. His father was a very skilled
Folke was the youngest of seven children. His siblings went into nursing,
baking and tailoring. Folke chose bookbinding. For two years, starting at age
18, he trained at Slöjdföreningen, Gothenberg, a well-known school for
artisans. He became very skilled in all aspects of bookbinding.
Folke continued his education by taking evening classes in math, management
and English. For five years he worked in Gothenburg doing hand binding, then
went into industrial bookbinding. He became an employee of Oberg and Son in
Eskiltuna, where he became a foreman in the loose-leaf binders department.
Later he moved to the big Esselte Company in Norrkoping, where he was made a
In 1950 Folke took a leave of absence from Esselte and traveled to Montreal,
Canada, at the invitation of two German immigrants who wanted to start a
bookbinding business and needed help learning how to use machines that Folke
was familiar with. For nine months he trained the owners and workers until
they were off to a good start in their enterprise.
Before returning to Sweden Folke wanted to have seen really big binderies,
which meant going to the U.S. He was given a visa and hired by Burkhardt and
Co. in Detroit, starting July 1951. He joined the union, the International
Brotherhood of Bookbinders. For the first time in his life he experienced
tension between the black and white workers.
Folke wanted to see a bit more of the U.S. and he did not want to experience
the Detroit winter, known to be harsher than Sweden's, so in early December he
headed south in his Dodge. He came to the Gulf Coast, but his goal was to
reach California. The sightseeing was interesting, and American apple pie and
coffee was a "given" at every rest stop. By Christmas he basked on the warm
beaches of Los Angeles.
In a Swedish church he found new friends, and he felt at home. At the union
office he was referred to the Silverlake Bindery, which also owned Ward
Ritchie Press. Anderson, Ritchie and Simon was well known for special order
work. The Limited Edition Club was one of the customers. Folke fit right in.
He soon knew that he would stay in California and wrote his resignation letter
to Esselte. Folke went to night school. He became an American citizen. Things
were going well. Folke was ready to marry, settle down, and have a family. He
had kept in touch with his Swedish friend, Sara. Here the story changes from
"he" to "we": Folke and I were married in Sweden July 10, 1954.
In August we were in Los Angeles. Folke returned to his job. We bought a home.
I went to UCLA and got a B.S. degree. Our first child, Lisbet, was born in
1958. The smog was a big problem and we moved to Sacramento. Folke first
worked at Ray White and Son, later at the State Printing Office (S.P.O.). We
bought a big residential lot in the South Land Park area.
Because of the layoffs at S.P.O. we had to leave and return to Los Angeles in
1961, this time to live and work near the ocean. Folke was hired by the UCLA
bindery and did special work for UCLA Library's Special Collections. We bought
a home in Mar Vista, five minutes from the beach. In March 1963 our twins,
Kristina and Maria, were born.
We stayed in Mar Vista long enough to become part of an intricate thirty-three
family carpool. That made it possible for our three girls to attend UCLA
elementary and preschool, which was a much sought after privilege. Even so, we
saw Sacramento as a better city in which to bring up children. We returned to
Sacramento in what would be our last move. Folke designed a home for the big
lot, hired a good builder, and in Jan 1967 we moved into 4608 Sunset Drive.
A big workshop was part of the home. Folke gathered bookbinding equipment and
machinery until he had a complete bindery at home. In the meantime he worked
at the S.P.O. from which he retired in Jan 1, 1974. He now opened his own
business under the name Sacramento Bindery. Mr. Herb Caplan had a bookstore
for old and rare California books. Folke became invaluable to him for repairs
and restoration. Theirs was a very special friendship. Others came to Folke
with theses, professional journals, and special collections. His specialty was
restoring old family bibles.
Folke never sought recognition for himself or his work. What he made spoke for
itself. He counted it a privilege to have worked with the best in the field of
Merle Armitage was a book designer of far reaching influence. The Merle
Armitage Bibliography by Robert Marks was published in 1956. In his bold
handwriting Mr. Armitage write in a copy he gave to Folke: for Swensson, the
In 1984 Ward Ritchie was recognized for his fifty year contribution to the art
of making fine books. A reception in his honor was held at the California
State Library, Sacramento. Folke was invited as a guest. He was greeted by Mr.
Ritchie with a joyous, "O Folke, my bookbinder!" Photos were taken and later
sent to Folke's home. Theirs was a mutual respect for highest quality work but
also a personal friendship.
Folke was a quality man in all he did and he bound books to last. He was also
very generous. As a gift he rebound sixty hymnals for a Sunday school in his
church in 1983. Those books have been in use every Sunday for twenty-five
years. They are still in good shape because he used highest grade materials.
Folke's greatest gift was to the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley in
1991. Our daughter Maria had graduated from UC Berkeley and was married in
that church. Folke offered to rebind all their hymnals. They had over 600! He
gave them choice of buckram, and they chose a lavender cloth at $15 per yard
to match the sanctuary carpet. It was a huge task that became a family affair.
Our daughter Liz Leighton helped, doing an outstanding job. Folke did all the
goldstamping. Every book had "Hymnal" on the spine and on the front cover at
the top: "Hymns for the Family of God;" at the bottom: "First Presbyterian
Church of Berkeley." The church used those hymnals for many years until they
changed to a new type of songbook, which is used only in the sanctuary (see
The last three years of his life, Folke did no bookbinding. His back had
become very bent. His height had gone from 6'1" to 5'. He died on Nov. 18,
2005 at the age of 91. Folke is very much missed by his family and his
friends. He left us good memories. He also left us his own very fine library
of forty Swedish books. He was an avid reader. While in his twenties he bought
paperback versions of mostly classic books and bound them exquisitely. Most
are bound in leather of various kinds, full leather, or a combination of
leather and his own marbled paper. All are goldstamped, most also have gold
edges on the top of the pages.
Sacramento, May 19, 2008
P.S. This last week I had a sunshine experience. I wanted to know what had
happened to the hymnals Folke had rebound for the church in Berkeley. So I
called "First Pres" and talked to
Pat Nicholson, who said she remembers well when Folke's gift came. She told me
that the church now has new hymnals only in the sanctuary. In all the other
rooms, and there are many that are used for Sunday schools, youth work, music,
clubs, etc., the lavender hymnals remain: "and they are in very good shape."
She promised to send me two copies, which arrived on May 17. One is in the box
to the bookbinder's museum. It makes me grateful and proud of Folke's legacy
as a quality man.
The American Bookbinders Museum
2736 16th Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
July 3, 2008
Dear Mrs, Svensson,
Thank you so much for your informative and engaging biography of your husband
Folke Swensson. With your permission, we would like to post this biography on
our website and have enclosed a transcript of the letter that you sent us.
Please let us know if this is in keeping with your wishes, and if it is so, if
the transcript meets your approval.
As you know, The American Bookbinders Museum is interested in preserving the
memory and work of bookbinders of the 19th and 20th century in the United
States. Our goal is not only to preserve artifacts of that craft but to
provide a catalog of biographies of bookbinders working in the trade during
the that time period.
Please visit us at our site to watch the progress of the museum's growth and
celebrate with us the richness and diversity of bookbinding and the people who
The American Bookbinders Museum
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