Historic Staff Spotlight: Blanca Tomé

We are taking a look at past staff and their many contributions to the National Archives throughout its history. Today’s staff spotlight is Blanca Tomé, who immigrated to the United States from Cuba in her 50s and became an expert bookbinder at the National Archives. 

Blanca Tomé (née Biosca) was born on June 24, 1907, in Camagüey, Cuba. She married Miguel Tomé, had two children, and was a stay-at-home mom. 

In 1960, Tomé and her husband Miguel, a physician, emigrated to the United States after their daughter, Marta, moved to Washington, DC, to get her Ph.D. from Catholic University. Tomé, who did not speak English well, took an English course at Georgetown University and found work as a dress fitter while Miguel studied for his recertification exams. However, Miguel soon fell ill, and Tomé had to quit her job and stay at home with her husband. 

Marta, who was in library school at Catholic, started bringing home rare books from the university’s library bindery that needed resewing. Tomé, who was a very adept seamstress, carefully sewed the book bindings. Soon, Tomé went to work in the bindery and studied under the library’s bookbinder, who had trained in Europe. She had been at Catholic University for six years when, in 1970, she left for a position in the Preservation Branch at the National Archives.

During an interview for the National Archives newsletter, Tomé talked about her work, which ranged from routine book rebinding to working on volumes of documents with carefully scraped leather covers, contrasting half leather covers, elaborate end papers, or gold spine lettering. A lot of her projects involved volumes with deteriorating paper, deteriorating bindings, or both. The preservation staff would unbind the records, deacidify, flatten or treat the paper, then give the volume to Tomé rebind. She also worked on projects to create binders and portfolios to safely store original photographs.

Since records created by the federal government come in a wide variety in sizes and shapes, most of Tomé’s work was custom—not something a machine could do without damaging the paper. She also had to use her ingenuity. For instance, due to cost, the National Archives could not purchase expensive binding leather, so Tomé would often have to use the original leather on a volume and scrape the layers off to get to the usable leather beneath. 

While at the National Archives, Tomé trained several apprentices and supervised other bookbinders. She left the National Archives in 1978, and after husband died in 1982, she moved to Florida, where her son lived. Blanca Tomé passed away on February 16, 1994, in Palm Beach, Florida.

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