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Cuneo Fine Binding Studio (Chicago, Ill.)



In 1907 John F. Cuneo (1884-1977) left Yale University to start a bookbinding business in Chicago – the world’s publishing capital. Cuneo took out a $10,000 loan from his father, a successful produce merchant named Frank Cuneo, to start his bindery and repaid it 18 months later. In 1919 Cuneo expanded his business by purchasing the printing firm Henneberry Company and renaming it Cuneo Press. Cuneo branched into printing when he realized that no single firm offered book publishers composition, printing, and binding under one roof. The Henneberry Company building was largest printing plant in the city in 1890 (housed at 22nd Street and Clinton Avenue, near the Chicago River) and when Cuneo took over, the plant saw many more vast expansions.

The Cuneo Press mainly specialized in the production of magazines. Some of the more than 50 national magazines that the Cuneo Press printed included Time, Life, and Hearst Co. publications like Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Bazaar. The company also produced a great deal of catalogs, books, and phone directories.  True to Cuneo’s origins, the company opened a world class fine bindery in April of 1926. Cuneo imported award winning bookbinders such as Leonard Mounteney, who was a master binder with the Royal Bookbinder in London, and George Bear whose patrons included Popes Pius XII and John XXIII, Queen Juliana of Netherlands and President Auriol of France. Books produced by the Cuneo Fine Bindery Studio won many awards and were exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago and the John Crerar Library.

The Cuneo Press was instrumental in the success of the 1933 World’s Fair. John Cuneo was on the board of trustees for the fair and as a Lenox R. Lohr said in his 1952 Fair Management: the story of A Century of Progress Exposition: Cuneo’s "enthusiastic and loyal support in periods of stress and financial stringency during pre-opening days was a material factor in getting the Fair off to a good start." For the Fair the Cuneo Press exhibited a recreation of Gutenberg’s workshop complete with a replica of the original press, shipped in from the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany. Visitors to the exhibit watched as Cuneo men created type, tooled leather bindings and printed a leaf from the Gutenberg’s 42-line Bible (all in period garb). In celebration of 500 years of printing, the Cuneo Press also exhibited at the World's Fair of 1940 in New York and printed broadsides of 76 lines from Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography and Stephen Daye’s The Oath of a Freeman.

By 1940 the Cuneo Press had plants in Chicago, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Kokomo, Indiana, and Weehawken, New Jersey. The Chicago plant was 1,291,650 sq. feet and consumed 915 tons of paper and 31,932 pounds of ink a day. What began as a $10,000 loan, John Cuneo turned a personal wealth of an estimated 120 million dollars by 1965. The Cuneo Press went the way of many large Chicago manufacturers, and closed its Chicago plant in 1977 due to the high cost of operations. In December 1977, the Cuneo Printing Company donated materials from the Cuneo Fine Binding Studio to Northwestern University Library.

The Chicago Cuneo Press building change many hands after the closing of the press and by the 1990’s Mayor Daley called the building "a longstanding symbol of decay.” In 1991 the building was the site of massive fire scenes for the finale of the film Backdraft, and in 1995 the building was the first in the city to be imploded.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Cuneo Studio Materials

Identifier: MS55

The Cuneo Press, Inc. was started in 1907 by John Frank Cuneo (1884-1977) and quickly became Chicago's second largest printing firm. The Cuneo Studio archival collection is comprised of four boxes and spans the years 1751-2014. The collection was donated to Northwestern University Library in 1977, after the closure of the Cuneo Fine Binding Studio. The records were generated by the Cuneo Fine Binding Studio, which was established in 1926 by the Cuneo Press, Inc.

Dates: 1751-2014; Other: Date acquired: 01/01/1977