Newest cell phone? Need it! State-of-the-art tech device? Gotta have it! Novel hot off the best seller list? Can’t wait! In a digital get-it-now world, with the newest model everything always around the corner, it may seem surprising that one Mississippi company continues to thrive after 70 years in business by saving yesterday’s news and rejuvenating old, worn and dilapidated books which are easily and cheaply available brand new. Even more surprising in the era of automation: Much of the work is done by hand.
However, with more than one million restored and rebound Bibles circulating across the globe—600 to 700 restorations completed each month—plus a robust business binding archival copies of magazines and newspapers, Norris Bookbinders in Greenwood proves that some old possessions are not only valuable, they are priceless.
A family Bible, the mainstay of the Norris business, is a prime example. A new Bible, easily purchased, will have stories, of Genesis, of Abraham, of the flight from Egypt and the miracles of Jesus, but what it will not have are the stories of the family who has owned the Bible, of their faith, of their struggles and their hopes and dreams across generations. A new Bible will hold pride of place in a household, but the old family Bible also holds a place in the heart that is, well, irreplaceable.
It is that simple truth that has made Norris the largest Bible and family Bible repair company in the nation, possibly in the world. From all 50 states and 30 countries, customers ranging from world-renown evangelists to ordinary families to the families of U.S. Presidents have all entrusted Norris to preserve and repair their precious volumes.
Although the business was founded in 1947 by Mr. and Mrs. H.H. Norris for the purpose of commercial and library rebinding, H.H.’s knowledge and skill of Bible repair soon changed the company’s direction. A few years later, the princely sum of 60¢ an hour would also prove fateful, when H.H. offered that amount to young Charles Sproles to become an employee. At the time, the then 15-year old was making 25¢ an hour bagging groceries after school, and although his mother was at first wary of his giving up a “real job,” the idea that her son would be restoring Bibles convinced her. Charles’ brother Johnny also joined Norris; the brothers were made partners before H.H.’s death in 1967, and bought the business outright in 1993.
For Charles, what began as a good-paying job soon became a calling, one that has lasted for nearly 70 years. “I like to work with my hands,” he says, of the exacting task of restoration. “But when you see how much our work means to people, how important it is to them, that makes me feel good. We actually have tour buses stop here, because people want to see what we do.”
The company has repaired Bibles dating as far back as the 1600s, and some have been genuinely historic—like the Bible of the Reverend James Dempster, a protege of John Wesley sent to America in the 1700s to became pastor of the Methodist Chapel in New York City before he began ministering to the pioneers of the Mohawk Valley and Amsterdam, New York. Two hundred years later when Dempster’s Bible was found in an attic by a descendent, the volume seemed beyond repair. Other bookbinders passed on the job; however, the bookbinding team at Norris rose to the challenge, and today the Bible that served a pioneer of American faith is now back “on the job,” beautifully restored.
But then every Bible back on the job thanks to Norris has its own unique past, and while some of the stories have been unusual (like the Bible that fell out of a moving car and was run over by a Mack truck), and some of Norris’ customers have been famous—Billy Graham and Nancy Reagan, to name a few—the company operates with the knowledge that every family, and every Bible, is uniquely important, whether the owner is from a small house or the White House, whether the Amsterdam is in New York or the Netherlands. The story of faith, the story of families, should always endure.
To that end, Norris also rebinds and restores beloved children’s books, cookbooks, and any other volumes that are simply too treasured to be lost, but too worn to be handled without being lost. And in a small Greenwood plant with a modest number of employees, some of whom are family members, the company’s original work continues, rebinding premiere publications like Billboard Magazine into hard-back volumes and binding newspapers from around the Southeast into volumes for library and archival use.
The Sproles brothers and their staff take great pride in the work they do, binding newspapers and magazines for generations to come, and binding together generations of families through the preservation of treasured books with meticulous hand-made quality. State-of-the-art? Call it state of the heart.
And for Norris customers it is a joy unbound.