Otto Zahn Master Bookbinder

... Historic Bookbinder of the S. C. Toof Co.



Before his death in 1928, Otto Zahn had taken his place as one of the finest bookbinders in America as well as an outstanding figure in the entire bookbinding world.   He was born in Berka, Germany, the son of a Protestant clergyman and was fortunate in receiving a good education which placed him in a small bindery where he learned the bookbinding process of folding, sewing, binding, and finish.  Afterwards he set out on world travels where he found his way into some of the best shops of Germany, Italy, Egypt, Switzerland, France, England, and the United States.  He arrived in America in 1883, settling down in Memphis in 1884.  In Memphis, Otto Zahn found employment with S. C. Toof & Company.  It wasn't long before he began wining prizes in National and International  bookbinding expositions.   At Toof, he became Foreman, Superintendent, General Manager, Vice President and in 1918 President of the Company until his retirement in 1923.  The Toof firm and Otto Zahn were highly respected.   Virtually nothing else is known about Otto Zahn, the man.   His books are his legacy.

Otto Zahn   


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Otto Zahn

Otto Zahn

Otto Zahn - Overton Park

1891 S.C Toof Co.

Otto Zahn vault

Otto Zahn was an excellent horseman and is said to have ridden his horse, Kitty, to work every day.  The back of the postcard is shown because it contains a sample of Zahn's writing and his signature.

1920 Otto Zahn postcard - Front and Back




Fine decorative bindings always had a great attraction for Otto Zahn, and he  made their characteristics of historic styles his special study.  All the decorative elements and ornamentation of all historic periods were stored up as his own property.  He became famous for a particular type of hand-tooling as well as replicating hand-tooling in European styles of bindings.  He was a master of a personal style of polishing that was not duplicated by anyone else.  A strength of Zahn's finest bindings is that the covers of his books could be opened to their fullest, even back to back, and without the slightest crack.


NY Times 1902 P.C 1903 Oregonian 1907      




In addition to his position at S. C. Toof, , Otto Zahn operated another bindery in Memphis under his own name - The Zahn Bindery.

<<<<<    Examples of "Zahn Bindery, Memphis"   >>>>>



Otto Zahn Chronology  

Born:  March 3, 1856 Berka, Germany.  Died:  May 5, 1928, Memphis.  Buried:  Forest Hill Cemetery - Abby Mausoleum

Immigration:  December 7, 1883.  Port of Departure:  Amsterdam, Holland.  Port of Arrival:  New York, NY.  Ship:  Zaandam

Memphis:  S. C. Toof & Company:

1887-1889  .  Bookbinder
1889-1899  .  Foreman Bindery
1899-1902  .  Superintendent
1902-1911  .  General Manager
1911-1919  .  Vice President
1919-1923  .  President
1923             .  Retired as President

Awards:  London Exposition - 1st Prize 1893,   Grolier Club, NYC - 1897,   St. Louis Exposition - 1st Prize in binding 1904
Memphis Home Addresses:

1887             .  221 2nd Street
1888             .  292 Front Street
1889-1893  .  75 Adams

1894             ,  96 Monroe
1895-1902  .  Clarendon Hotel
1903-1909  .  239 Wellington  (305 S. Wellington in 1905)
1910             .  185 Poplar
1911-1914  .  111 N. Montgomery
1915-1924  .  200 Union Avenue (Heritage Apartments)
1925-1928  .  No Listing

S. C. Toof & Company

The S. C. Toof  & Company printing business was founded in 1864 by Canadian born Stephen C. Toof, who had started out as composing room foreman for the Memphis Daily Appeal.  His brother-in-law, W. H. Bates became a partner in 1900.  In 1913, they hired architect G. M. Shaw to design a downtown building for their production and administrative facility.  It was designed in the architectural style of the Chicago School, utilizing new technologies of steel-frame construction with masonry siding and plate-glass window areas.  The style also limited the amounts of exterior ornamentation.  In 1982 the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.  Located adjacent to AutoZone Park, it's been vacant for some time, but plans are underway to develop the building for apartments. 


S. C. Toof & Co S. C. Toof Building S. C. Toof Building S. C. Toof

Toof home 1891

S. C. Invoice 1941


The Toof Company is the oldest printing company in Memphis, and is still in business as "Toof Commercial Printing".  They relocated to
670 S. Cooper in 1965.  In July 2013, they merged with Digital Printing and the new name is Starr Toof Printing Company.





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