Juniper Books is a Literary Lion

Thatcher Wine of Boulder’s Juniper Books raises libraries to fine art.

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Mon Dieu! Book jackets from Juniper form a bold map on a wall in a hotel lobby. Courtesy Juniper Books

Were it not for his bizarre, brilliant and utterly charming occupation, one might assume Thatcher Wine had never heard of the expression “by the book.” He does things his way, his way only. In this age of reboots and retweets and recycled content, Wine ranks as a true original.

Amiable and soft-spoken, Wine grew up in New York City and attended Dartmouth College, where he studied history and art history. After graduating, he moved to Los Angeles to work in management consulting, pivoted to tech entrepreneurship and after another leap landed finally in his current role as owner and operator of Juniper Books, the Boulder-based design-studio-cum-bookseller he founded in 2010.

Juniper’s business model is, like Wine himself, insistently sui generis. According to the rather vague definition on its website, Juniper “crafts custom book collections for purchase,” but in reality, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Juniper is not a publisher; it does no printing or binding. Instead, it creates literary art objects by obtaining hardcover books directly from publishing houses, removing the standard-issue jackets and rewrapping the books in jackets of its own design. It’s a nervy business model, and one wonders why Juniper’s daily mail is not fat with cease-and-desist letters. The explanation, it turns out, is simple: Book titles can’t carry copyrights. So long as Wine doesn’t use publishers’ artwork or designs on Juniper’s jackets, he’s operating as an independent bookseller, meaning he’s in the clear.

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From France to Cycling Mountaineering and Cycling book sets as well as custom book sets in a Boulder home. Courtesy Juniper Books

The results are nothing short of stunning. One aspect of the business—the famous one, the one featured in the likes of Vanity Fair and The New York Times—involves transforming shelves, or sometimes entire walls, of hardcovers into veritable murals. You can see some of these on display in Juniper’s polished showroom, or, if you’re lucky enough to peek behind the scenes, in the much larger back-room production space where Wine spins his fancies, Wonka-like, into reality.

Back there, you’ll encounter the deeper magic of Juniper: a team of arty-looking graphic designers working on big monitors; huge printers; racks of creamy, expensive paper. And, of course, towering shelves filled with books of all kinds—old leather-bound editions acquired from estate sales, boxes of “Harry Potters” and other mega-hits, obscure European hunting manuals. Wine even keeps a sizable number of blank books on hand, ordered from the printer perfectly empty, devoid of content. Certain clients, Wine explains, desire nothing more than design—the shape of books as a kind of canvas.

Juniper Books adds 30 to 35 products to its permanent catalog every year (“Harry Potter” sets, unsurprisingly, are the perennial bestsellers), but much of the business still comes from custom orders—clients working with Wine and his team to design something personal, something special. It’s a practice that harkens back, in some sense, to the original tradition of book production, before the invention of the printing press, when scribes inked out texts one at a time, on commission.

“Anything that’s printed and really exists, that you take the time to design and bring into the world, should be worth keeping,” Wine says. “It should be beautiful. It should help people tell the story of who they are.”

A noble mission indeed, and one that Juniper Books, with Wine at its helm, seems more than capable of carrying out.