A Rough Guide to Printers' Europe

Printing offices of the not-so-distant past were alive with the noisy mutterings of temperamental thousand-parted survivals from the golden age of machinery; today these have been replaced by near slient digital presses and gently humming computer screens. Modern printing offices of may be efficient, but they are also detached. Over the past few years there has been a revival of interest in the history of printing, and a desire to experience the hands-on, craft approach to printing: and a growing number of museums at home and abroad have emerged to satisfy that curiosity. So if you are an impassioned typophile travelling in northern Europe, here are a few must-sees.


Historical Printing Room, and Museum of Technology, Cambridge

For the serious typophile I would recomment a visit to Cambridge University Library, which holds many wonderful collections – including the papers of Stanley Morison and Beatrice Warde and the archives of the Curwen and Nonesuch Presses. However, even greater treasures are to be found amongst the library’s considerable collection of printing artefacts,  including a full-size replica of a late eighteenth-century wooden hand-press, an ‘Arab’ treadle-driven press, a Columbian and a copperplate printing press. Equally important is the material from William Morris’s Kelmscott Press: the punches and matrices for his Troy, Chaucer and Golden types, and punches for Eric Gill’s Perpetua and Joanna. But, for me, the highlight has to be the wonderful 2,750 surviving Baskerville punches made by Birmingham’s famous printer in the 1750s. Silent soldiers of steel laid regimentally in their wooden cases, silent witnesses to an adventurous history.

Cambridge is, of course, bursting with other sites of bibliographic interest: including the recently opened Cambridge Museum of Technology, just a short walk from the Library. The Museum is home to a working print shop, which includes Monotype and Linotype casters, an Albion, Warfdale, Columbian, Adana and various proofing presses. And, if you want to re-awaken long-forgotten skills, you can even set a line of type and print yourself a souvenir.

Amberley Museum & Heritage Centre, Sussex

Amberley Museum is a living museum edicated to the industrial heritage of the South East, which is set in a thrity-six acre site set in the South Downs National Park. Amongst its many exhibits is a fully-functioning printing workshop. Run by a band of enthusiastic volunteers, each of them skilled in the traditional crafts printing, there is much to see, including the recently-restored Linotypes, a Treadle Platen, a Common or Wooden Press, Adana and a Columbia Press. Visitors can watch demonstrations of the Linotype, Ludlow and Erod machines, but are also welcome to try setting a ‘line-o-type’ for themselves and pulling a proof on an Adana.

Músaem Náisiúnta Cló [National Print Museum], Dublin

Dublin, the birthplace of James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats and Samuel Becket, is one of the literary capitals of the world. Hardly surprising, therefore, it is also home to some of the most beautiful examples of printing. No trip to the city would be complete with out a visit to the stunning Marsh’s Library—Ireland’s earliest public library—with over 25,000 examples of fine printed books; or the Distillers’ Press, part of the National College of Art & Design, open to the public by appointment; or the breathtaking Old Library in the Long Room at Trinity College with its fine collection of incunabula. But if you only have time to see one of Dublin’s typographic jewells, then it has to be the Músaem Náisiúnta Cló, which contains over 10,000 items relating to printing in Ireland from hand-setting to hot-metal, through to early computer typesetting, including artefacts relating to the newspaper industry: all in full working order. One of the higlights of the collection is a seventeenth-century hand-mould for casting type, another is an original 1916 Proclamation (currently on loan) along with a Wharfdale Stop Cylinder Press, similar to that used to print the first proclamation. When you have finished with the Músaem pop next door to Dublin’s oldest pub for a pint of printers ink: just don’t try to keep up with te locals!


Bibliothèque Forney and Musée des Arts et Métiers, Paris

In France, as in England, the most interesting printing museums are found outside the metropolis. However, if you are in Paris, a to visit the Bibliothèque Forney—whose collections include material on the French printing industry, traditional and contemporary typesetting techniques, printing, papermaking, and engraving—will not disappoint. In addition, the Bibliothèque has an extensive collection of trade literature and type catalogues. Just round the corner is the Musée des Arts et Métiers with a gallery devoted to nineteenth-century iron printing presses, rotary presses, proofing presses, stereotypes and machine tools.

Musée de l'imprimerie, Lyon

On your way to the French Alps stop over in Lyon: it is not only the gastronomic capital of the world it is also home to one of Europe's most important printing museums. The Musée de l'imprimerie is located in the fifteenth-century Hôtel de la Couronne. It contains a significant collection of books, engravings, tools, technical equipment and machines relating to the history of printing. The musée displays several methods of reproduction: wood engraving, intaglio engraving, lithography, and photomechanical processes (half-tone engraving, photogravure). It also possesses a remarkable collection of engraved wood blocks from the sixteenth to twentieth century. There are regular exhibitions covering all aspects of book production: drawings, engravings, lithographs, posters, and ancient and modern works of exceptional quality. There are also printing workshops especially for children.


De Typografische Bibliotheek, Amsterdam

Holland boasts some of the biggest names in print’s past—Elzevir, Enschedé—unsurprising, therefore, it claims some of the best printing museums. Enhance your trip to the Dutch capital with a visit to De Typografische Bibliotheek and take a look at the Tetterode Collection, which contains a wonderful selection of twentieth-century typography: the archives of Lettergieterij Amsterdam; printed ephemera such as waysgoose-prints; and one of the largest collections in Europe of book production, distribution, and conservation. See also the Athias-chest, which  contains punches and matrices from which Hebrew type was cast for more than two centuries and used to print thousands of Hebrew and Yiddish books. The Tetterode Collection also has some beautiful prints demonstrating a large variety of illustration and reproduction techniques and pictures from type-foundries and printing establishments.

Museum Joh. Enschedé, Haarlem

Haarlem is just twenty kilometers west of Amsterdam with a beautiful sixteenth- and seventeenth-century town centre and several museums. The firm of Joh. Enschedé has been in existence for almost three centuries. Located in the premises of Enschedé‘s Haarlem division it contains the history of the foundry. Its main collections comprise: the firm’s archives; punches and matrices of the typefoundry; archives of the Oprechte Haarlemsche Courant; the banknote collection; and the filatelic collections. All date from the beginning of the eighteenth century.


Plantin-Moretus Museum and Dagbladmusem, Antwerp

For many years Antwerp was the focal point for sixteenth-century fine book printing: a fact reflected by the city’s two printing museums. South of the Grote Markt is the city’s oldest residential district, and close to the Vrijdagmarkt Square is the marvellous Plantin-Moretus Museum, one of the most celebrated museums in Antwerp. It is a sixteenth-century patrician house set around a courtyard, with original furnishings and the workshops and book collection of Christopher Plantin, one of the great masters of early printing. The ‘Officina Plantiniana’ was the most famous printing works in Europe. The typefoundry, workshop, type store, correctors’ room and bookshop are still intact and preserved as they were in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The type foundry includes 15,825 moulds and 4,477 punches capable of printing eighty different founts all in working order. There are 2,846 copperplates and 13,791 woodblocks. The workshop houses eight seventeenth- and eighteenth-century presses, the oldest of which date from around 1600. The building is magnificent and the collection is imposing as it represents 300 years of typographic work.

Also in Antwerp is the Dagbladmusem [Press Museum], which is located in the former home of Abraham Verhoeven an engraver, printer and journalist. In 1605, Verhoeven started printing the Niewe Tydinjhen from his home, one of the world’s first printed newspapers. The museum has the largest and most diverse newspaper collections in the world. The collection exceeds two million examples that come from more than 120 countries. Among the curiosities are the biggest newspaper: The Constellation (USA, 1859); and the smallest newspaper: Utrecht´s Niewblad (Netherlands, 1845). In addition there is a selection of printing and binding equipment and various composing machines.


Gutenberg-Museum, Mainz

Mainz, is the birthplace of moveable type and home to the Gutenberg-Museum. Adjoining the colourful Markt and a little to its east is Liebfrauenplatz. On the north side of the platz is the magnificent pink renaissance façade of the Hans zum Römischen Kaiser, which houses the offices of the Gutenberg-Museum. The actual displays are in a modern extension behind. The Gutenberg-Museum has been enlarged and extended over several decades; it was expanded once more for the 600 anniversary of the birth of Gutenberg in 2000 when he was also voted ‘man of the millennium’. Visitors to the museum can see a modern re-creation of Gutenberg’s workshop and printing machines and watch occasional demonstrations taking place. On display are examples from Gutenberg’s workshop including the famous 42-line bible from the 1450s as well as illuminated manuscripts, wooden book-blocks, book covers and historic presses. Elsewhere in the museum there are displays of books from around the world.

MAN Corporation, Augsburg

Augsburg is 220 km southeast of Mainz and it is where you will find the MAN Corporation. MAN has its own museum about its contribution to the development of printing machines and the firms other interest, diesel engines. The museum displays both originals and reconstructions of historical printing machines and machine parts. Two of the original exhibits are particularly worth mentioning: a hand-operated high-speed printing machine from 1846 and the first attempt at a diesel engine that was built between 1893 and 1895. There are many pictures and photographs of the MAN enterprise, Rudolf Diesel, and the building of printing machines. There are also about 1.5 million documents about the history of the MAN group and its predecessor companies.

Stiftung Werkstattmuseum für Druckkunst (Museum of the Printing Arts) Leipzig

Stiftung Werkstattmuseum für Druckkunst is one of the most recent printing museums, having been established in 1999. With its collection of around 100 working historical printing machines spanning the centuries, coupled with equipment for both hand composition and hot-metal typesetting, the Stiftung Werkstattmuseum für Druckkunst really brings the history of printing alive. Part museum and part active workshop, visitors still can experience hands on printing processes for themselves. The museum also covers some of the allied trades with a fully equipped handcraft bookbindery, a workshop of a wood engraver and an unique collection of more than 4,000 different typefaces both roman and exotic, from Europe and the Far East. The Stiftung Werkstattmuseum für Druckkunst is located in the former industrial quarter of Plagwitz in a listed industrial building that has been in continuous use as a printing house since the early twentieth century.

Wherever you end up this summer, perhaps you can be tempted to dip your toe in to a little of prints past!