Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Traveling Type Nerds Visit Museums

Ever wonder what happens when type nerds like my husband and myself visit printing displays at museums? Are we bored because we already know how the presses work? Not on your life!

Instead, we linger. After that first printing demonstration, most people head to another part of the museum. We’re too fascinated to move. Second demo, we’re still watching. Third demo, you guessed it, still there. After awhile the printer notices, and we get talking type. We share our card and pieces we’ve printed. Sometimes we’re even invited behind the scenes.

That’s what happened at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. We were thoroughly enjoying the depth of their printing collection: the type-casting machines and marvelous old time presses. After hanging out for maybe half a hour watching the demonstration, the printer learned we were fellow printing hobbyists. We ended up being invited to pull an impression on the wooden common press he was demonstrating.

Sometimes half the thrill is getting to know another printer. At the Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, New York, the employee demonstrating the press was interested in acquiring his own press someday. Since we were en route to a printer’s convention in New York City later in the week, we told him about it and he ended up attending.

Incidentally, most of our time at the Farmer’s Museum was spent in two places: in the regular print shop, and in a shop with a press for printing wallpaper (something we’d never seen before). We had free tickets to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but we never got there – having too much fun hanging out in print shops!

Sometimes we just luck out. At a prominent museum in the American Southwest, we were disappointed to hear the print shop was closed for renovations. Wandering into the courtyard, we spotted a man wearing what from a distance looked like a printer’s apron. Could it be? We asked him and sure enough, he was the printer. After talking awhile, we were invited behind the scenes and got to see the shop after all.

I need to mention one more printing display: this one at the Missouri Historical Society where my husband works. Notice the video display explaining how this old cast iron press from the Waterloo Advocate works. That’s my husband, demonstrating the press. He loved doing it, too!

Type nerds never get tired of print shops. It’s an endless addiction. Printer’s ink gets in your blood, so to speak. You can’t get enough. Historic sites and museums with print shops rise to the top of your “must see” list. You spend hours. You take pictures of everything. It’s a disease, but an thoroughly enjoyable one to have.

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