The Type Archive, London

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A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across a link on Twitter from Dan Rhatigan (Monotype Type Director) about an open evening at The Type Archive in South London – a place I’ve been trying to get inside since I moved to the city in 2007, shortly after it closed doors to the public due to funding issues.

The Archive is the resting place of the last three major type foundries of the UK; Monotype Corporation (Surrey); DeLitte (York); Stephenson Blake (Sheffield). As such is something of nirvana for someone like myself. There was no missing out on this opportunity to snoop. Tickets were purchased and with the word spread, it seemed like it was to be a great night with fellow printers travelling from around the UK to visit.

The night was organised as a celebration of the 500th anniversary of the death of Aldus Manutius and a new book cataloguing the history of The Monotype Corporation. Unfortunately it was a cash-only affair so I couldn’t manage to snag a book on the night.

With only three hours to look around the vast collection, the night was a bit of a whirlwind of geeky excitement. It was great to catch up with a few of the regulars; The Counter Press, Simon Goode, Pat Randle, Justin Knopp & Rob Pratley from Typoretum, Paul Butler from St. Boltoph’s, Phil & Nick from Hand & Eye, and ever-so-briefly Andy Taylor. It was also nice to put a name to the face of several others, including Naomi from Gretel Press. I even bumped into several of my old University of Reading lecturers, which was great. As well as all that socialising, there were some things to look at andI missed out on seeing a few people – It was hard to not zone out from conversation, walk off and open a drawer!

After grabbing our name badges we were ushered through a tiny stable door into ‘The Print Room’, which was full of presses of all kinds and stacks-upon-stacks of typecases.

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After running around the first area for 20 minutes, saying hello to a few people and generally being too excited to think, we ended up in another building and entered the ‘Machine Room’. Here was housed Robert (Jim) DeLittle’s pantograph machine and racks of the original type cutting templates for wood type.

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In the display cases we saw a great photograph of Jim deLittle cutting on his machine and some amazing specimens pages/books. The room was filled with even more drawers of type.

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Next was the Monotype casting room, where one of the casters was up and running making fresh type. There was even a demonstration of hand-casting, which looked as dangerous as I always imagined. In here I also spotted an original Lanston casting machine, on which the Monotype system was based. All around the room were countless boxes of Monotype Matrices that used to form a ‘lending library’ of matrices. Drool.

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We were then ushered into another room for a talk on Aldus Manutius by Nicolas Barker – a man I could listen to for days on end – and heard nice speech by Sue Shaw, founder of the Type Archive. Wine flowed (and canapés evaded me), and then it was back to having a nosey around.

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The final section of the museum was the Monotype Matrix Room, which housed all of the punchcutting tools and machinery used for making matrices for casting type. This was probably my favourite area, which surprised me. we had the pleasure of meeting Parminder Kumar Rajput, a Monotype employee since 1965 who had so much energy it was contageous. He was running around showing us all of the different machinery with a gusto, full of knowledge and passion for a craft that is all but unknown nowadays. We also had a great chat with Duncan Avery in this room about traditional and modern typographic methods.

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Then, that was it, three hours had passed in what felt like ten minutes. I’m pretty sure we could have happily spent a weekend in that place unearthing forgotten treasures. Hopefully this is the first in many open evenings that the Type Museum hold. I would, for sure, go back in a heartbeat.

Join the discussion 11 Comments

  • Wow! What a superb write-up you’ve done here with tons of pics!

    It was great to look round the museum. My favourites were the hand-poured lead type demonstration and that wood type pantograph.

    Unfortunately we had to shoot off before the talk but it was great to meet some of the letterpress guys and gals from Twitter in person – missed you though Richard!

    Next time.

  • Tim Martin says:

    Thanks for this report – sincerely hope that this is the first of many to enable access to this world class historic material … I hope you don’t object if I share alink to this – to all the former staff, volunteers and supporters of the former museum who weren’t invited to this event, but who have been campaigning and hoping for a reopening of the doors to this material that closed in 2006 …

    • Hi Tim, thanks for your comment – I to have the same hope. I’m so sad that all of the people formerly connected with the museum weren’t made aware of this evening. If this is to be more than a one-time event, I look forward to seeing you there next time! Please feel free to share to anyone whos would be interested. Hopefully the pictures give a better reference than my writing!

      All the best, Richard

  • What a lovely write-up. I went along to the evening and it was good to catch up with so many. Great photos.

  • charles klensch says:

    Thanks for an outstanding virtual visit to the Type Archive. So happy to see it in its new circumstances. Fraternally, Chuck

  • […] great and good of the letterpress world came from across London, England, and even Europe to have a good nose around. Just don’t get us started on why they aren’t using their incredible archive to create […]

  • […] a glimpse inside The Type Archive though, see this photo rich post from Letterpresser, of an evening event there, back in […]

  • Lovely article and exciting photos. I have a number of patterns from Stephenson Blake for making wood type and am making wood type with them. They are my only patterns that are stamped by the maker. Are the Stephenson Blake wood type patterns housed here?

    • Dear Geri, I can’t believe you’re reading my blog – I love the work you’re doing in the States with VWT! As far as I know, the only patterns that they have there for wood type are from the DeLittle collection (complete with pantograph). I am of the understanding that the Wood Type section was wound up before the acquisition of the Type Archive, but I may be wrong. I will have a look into this for you…

  • Michael Fotheringham says:

    I was a compositors apprentice from 1969 – 74 and was banged out in true comp style, being covered in ink, paper punchings and sawdust. I recall that one of our class tours was to the Monotype factory at Salfords in Southern England. The factory even had it’s own railway station! We all received a gift when we left, a 12pt. piece of type with the lords prayer engraved on the top. It was a wonderful example of the skill and craftsmanship needed to work in print in those days. We had unfortunately already started the transition to phototypesetting in my last year and I progressed onto computers, and am still working with networks now. It seems unreal that a single copy of Microsoft Word in the right hands has replaced a six-year apprenticeship. Oh well, things change as they say. MJF

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