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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.