The Type Archive (TA) has taken the decision to relinquish its current premises in Stockwell, South London
The Type Archive holds the National Typefounding Collection, broadly comprising; 1. the typefounding materials of the Sheffield typefounders, Stephenson Blake, a collection dating from the 16th century; 2. the hot-metal archive and plant of the Monotype Corporation; and 3. the Woodletter pattern collection and plant of Robert DeLittle in York (1888-1996).
The Science Museum Group (SMG) has a statutory duty to ensure that the Monotype collection currently held at the TA is maintained in good condition and SMG will be moving it to its National Collections Centre near Swindon. SMG has also agreed to house the Stephenson Blake collection, on loan from the V&A – the interim owner – while options are explored for a long-term home. The National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport are providing support to enable these nationally important collections to be safeguarded.
The Type Archive Story
In 1992, after successfully rescuing the hot-metal plant and stock of the Monotype Corporation, Susan Shaw founded the Type Museum Trust at 100 Hackford Road in South London. The Type Museum Trust subsequently rescued and acquired Stephenson Blake & Co. and Robert DeLittle collections.
For thirty years The Type Museum – later renamed the Type Archive (TA) – has been kept going by the efforts of its Trustees, a loyal group of volunteers, customers who need its products, and interested members of the public. The TA has continued to make and maintain all the machinery by which letterpress printing is enabled, and preserve the skills that go with it. The TA Trustees are very grateful to all who have made this possible.
Over the last few years, the TA has struggled to achieve the income required to keep going. Recent worsening economic conditions have made that even more challenging. The Stockwell premises requires significant investment to tackle a backlog of substantial repairs, improve accessibility, and ensure the safe use and preservation of the collections,
The TA Trustees have been looking at a number of options that would house the collections in an improved environment. However, none of these options have provided a viable solution and there is no realistic prospect of sourcing the significant funding required in the short or medium term to address the repairs, accessibility and the care of the collection issues.
The TA will surrender the SMG loan of the Monotype Collection, made when the collection was purchased with funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF). The Stephenson Blake collection, which was also purchased with NHMF funding, will be loaned by the V&A as interim custodian to the SMG. The DeLittle collection was donated to the TA and conversations regarding its future home are ongoing.
Members of the public can already access a proportion of the Monotype Collection online, following a major cataloguing and digitisation programme by the SMG, which has created more than 5,800 records, including new photographs and insights. See Science Museum blog
Before the collections are moved to the National Collections Centre, the SMG will be inviting TA volunteers to participate in oral history interviews and a film to supplement the written and photographic work already done by the TA. These measures will help ensure some record of typefounding manufacture at the TA is captured and preserved.
About the three main collections
The Monotype Collection sits within the Printing and Writing section of the Science Museum Group Collection and contains more than 2 million individual items, including a comprehensive archive, around 100 machines, patterns and matrices, and over 4,000 drawers of punches.
The Stephenson Blake Collection will be the responsibility of the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) on an interim basis and consists of the stock, plant and archive of Stephenson Blake and Co Ltd, Sheffield, the last commercial type foundry in the United Kingdom. The Stephenson Blake Collection comprises 2.5 million artefacts relating to typefounding from the sixteenth century to the twentieth, together with a library of type specimens and business records.
The DeLittle Collection is currently owned by the TA, comprises the collection of machinery and wood type patterns of the York factory of Robert DeLittle, formerly the largest manufacturer of wood type in the UK.
How will access to the collections change?
Over three decades the TA has staged open days, conducted tours, hosted school groups, members of the public have had escorted visits, students and independent researchers from around the world have had unprecedented study access.
The SMG’s cataloguing and digitising part of the Monotype Collection has made certain artefacts accessible to anyone via the internet. Access to the Monotype Collection for researchers will in the future be provided at the National Collections Centre, in line with other access to the Science Museum Group Collection.