A visit to the Museum of books and printing

Chuncheon, South Korea

In the wake of the October 2018 IAPM Meeting and Conference in Cheongju, South Korea, a group of six participants to the conference seized the opportunity to visit a few letterpress-related places in Korea; among which the Museum of books and printing (책과인쇄박물관) – or MoBaP – in Chuncheon city.

Set in a futuristic-looking four-storey building built specifically to host it, this printing museum is located in a green valley outside of Chuncheon proper, close to the country house where the famous Korean novelist Kim Yu-jeong (1908-1937) was born. It focuses on all the processes involved in printing books and we were all very impressed, as visitors, to see how comprehensive and well-designed the exhibition is. Items on display include type casting equipment (a wide range of matrices and a type caster in proper working order – we actually witnessed it being used!), Korean type cases filled with brand new type, printing presses (also in working order: a few sheets were printed before our eyes on a cylinder press), bookbinding equipment, etc. Upstairs, printed material and books from various periods of printing history illustrate the evolution of techniques as well as various printing trends, but also the reform of the Korean script and the spread of literacy in the country. A selection of vintage typewriters and early home computers complete the set, providing an insight on the modern developments of written communication.

We were told that letterpress workshops adapted for children of various age groups are organised several times a week on the museum premises and that the MoBaP regularly receives group visits from entire school classes on weekdays. Moreover, the museum doubles as a publisher: it has already published three neatly letterpressed volumes of modern Korean poetry, such as Azalea by Kim Sowol (1902-1934), which are on sale at the coffee shop downstairs, along with letterpressed postcards and other souvenirs.

Founded by Mr Jeon Yongtae, a devoted book-lover with a background in printing, the MoBaP is an entirely private initiative. It is also a family-run venture: Mr Jeon’s daughter Anne, who has a good command of English and proved an excellent guide and interpreter during our visit, is amongst others in charge of running the letterpress workshops.

Access to the Museum of Books and Printing is fairly simple: if you’re coming from Seoul, just take the Gyeongchun suburban train line from Sangbong station and get off at Gimyujeong station. The trip takes an hour and a half or so. The museum is about fifteen minutes away from the station on foot and set in beautiful surroundings. Coming from downtown Chuncheon, Gimyujeong station is two stops away on the Gyeongchun line. (Alternatively, you can also take a taxi from the city centre, as the MoBaP is only a few kilometres outside of Chuncheon.)

To contact the museum (in Korean or English): mbpinfo@naver.com

Victor Thibout