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Between theory and practice: bringing letterpress and digital together in printing museums

An exploration of the complementarities and contradictions of theory and practice encountered by heritage organisations when dealing with the digital extensions of letterpress printing.

Alan Marshall

Preprint of an article to appear in a collection of papers presented at events organised as part of the research project Letterpress printing, past present and future by the Centre for the comparative history of print (University of Leeds) and the Centre for printing history and cultures (University of Birmingham). It is published with the kind permission of the organisers.

At first sight, the idea of bringing letterpress and digital together in printing museums is a bit like wanting to mix oil and water. Printing museums are very largely rooted in letterpress and as such are one of the few places where letterpress is of continuing use and influence today. Unfortunately, it also has to be said that digital technology is conspicuous in most printing museums by its absence. It would be no exaggeration to say that printing museums have not yet entered the digital age, at least not in terms of the exhibitions, workshops and educational activities which for most visitors are the most visible aspects of such museums.

One way of approaching this somewhat fugitive subject is through the continuing dialogue which printing museums maintain between what we might call theory and practice: between the historical, aesthetic and conceptual considerations which are the stock in trade of all museums, and the very practical aspects of letterpress printing and typography which visitors expect to find in printing museums’ exhibitions, workshops and demonstrations – a dialogue which has its counterpart in the inherently dual nature of typography itself which is by turns highly abstract and eminently practical, a duality which, though attenuated, has not disappeared with the dematerialisation that has come with digital technologies.

What do printing museums actually do?

By way of background to the questions which arise when bringing letterpress and digital typography together in printing museums, it is perhaps useful to run very quickly through what museums in general, and printing museums in particular, actually do.

At the heart of most museums lie their collections, the material evidence of the past which justifies the museum’s existence and constitutes what might be thought of as its ‘raw materials’. Collections may be defined as part of the project to set up a new museum as was the case, for example, with the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz which was set up in 1900 on the four-hundredth anniversary of Gutenberg’s birth. The decision was initially taken to create a museum to celebrate Gutenberg’s invention and the collection was put together to this end. Alternatively, the desire to exploit an existing collection may be the starting point for the creation of a museum, as was the case for many of the printing museums which were set up in the closing decades of the twentieth century when letterpress printing ceased to be a mainstream industrial process. Many of these museums were set up on the basis of a private collection in order to celebrate the memory of a local firm or industrial tradition, of printing as a major vehicle for cultural advancement or simply of letterpress as a technique. As for the growth of their collections, museums very often temper their founding aims with budgetary pragmatism and a necessary respect for space constraints, pursuing a more-or-less clearly articulated acquisitions policy with a healthy dose of opportunism in order to develop and maintain a coherent identity – a first example of the recurrent, down-to-earth need to reconcile theory and practice.

Once acquired, collections need to be exploited. And to be exploited effectively they have to be put into some kind of order. So museums have to identify, describe and classify the objects they possess and put them into different categories according to their nature and use. Typically in a printing museum there will be objects and documents. Objects will be divided into machines and tools, each of which might be subdivided again by printing process: relief, intaglio and planographic. Documents might be subdivided into books, newspapers and printed ephemera. Classification systems are endlessly fascinating – at least for museum professionals – because they are the backbone of the organisation of the collections, and though they may at times seem somewhat abstract to non-specialists they have a considerable impact not only on the theoretical framework within which museums work, but also on the practicalities of their everyday organisation, for they contribute largely to the ways in which the material evidence of the past is exploited and interpreted by museum staff, by researchers and even by exhibition designers.

This brings us to the third main aspect of a museum’s work: the exhibition and interpretation of its collections. Museums make their collections available to the public largely through temporary and permanent exhibitions aimed at displaying objects and rendering them intelligible for visitors. To which should be added workshops and demonstrations which in the course of the last thirty years, have come to offer an important alternative and complement to exhibitions, especially in printing museums.

The nature and objectives of exhibitions are extremely variable: they can be generalist or specialist; they can be defined by geographical area or time period; they can offer the last word on an established subject or the first news of an emerging field; they can be factual or creative; they can be consensual or polemical. The scale and scope of exhibitions, whether permanent or temporary, depend on the nature and extent of each museum’s collections as well as on its aims and aspirations, what in today’s jargon we call the mission statement. And, of course, they depend on the size of each museum’s budget and on the amount of space which they have at their disposition. In the case of printing museums budgets are – with very few exceptions – modest (very modest even) because printing history is considered to be a ‘niche market’ in the museum world.

As can be seen from this brief enumeration, museum work is itself a combination of theory and practice: the intellectual work involved in the management of collections, the planning of exhibitions, the conception and evaluation of other forms of mediation, and the very practical day-to-day activities of running a more or less complex organisation which is open to the public.

The dual nature of typography

Like museum work, typography – whether letterpress or digital – also involves both practice and theory. On the one hand it is a practical production process, carried out as a craft or on an industrial scale. On the other, it is a highly abstract representational system whose forms codify language and are a powerful vehicle of connotation, determining the ways in which a typeset text speaks to us through the choice of typefaces, variations in weights and sizes, and page layout.

As a practical production process letterpress typography requires manual dexterity, whether it be for hand typesetting or keyboarding on a composing machine, for correcting galleys or making-up pages, or for imposing the pages in the forme for printing. The application of photographic techniques, electronics and digital technologies to all aspects of type assembly and design has, however, considerably reduced the need for manual dexterity on the part of the typographer.

As an abstract representational system, typography is one of the principal means by which we organise and give form to ideas in a material two-dimensional space, whether it be on paper or on a screen. Typographers have to master complex systems of alphanumeric symbols in a variety of forms (such as medium, bold and italic) and formal styles (typefaces), sometimes in several languages, and ensure that work is carried out in conformity (and occasionally in deliberate contradiction) with complex production standards such as rules for composition or house styles. They are also required to conceptualise their activity in terms of spatial relationships in order to formulate mental representations of the document structures which underpin the innumerable forms and functions of page design and make-up.

In the particular case of letterpress printing typographers also have to calculate the overall volume of a given text according to a given specification, a process known as casting off. They also have to calculate word spacing and justification, manage line endings and page breaks, etc., and they have to make text up into pages which they assemble in impositions by the precise planning of the disposition of text and non-printing white space and margins. They may also require a knowledge of mechanics, in order to operate a linecasting machine or various others forms of ancillary equipment.

Although many of these traditional letterpress skills have been transformed or displaced within the production process by nearly half a century of technological innovation, the keyboard remains – for the moment at least – the universal tool for all those who are involved in text origination and assembly. Although many of the decisions which compositors and typographic designers were called upon to make – such as hyphenation, justification and the management of column and page breaks – have been taken over by the computer with only occasional human intervention,  professional typographers remain highly skilled for they are now required to have expert knowledge of abstractions such as file formats, networks and databases in order to master the flow of text from originator to output device, whether the latter be a printing press, a digital printer, or some form of digital media.

That said, many other typographical skills remain virtually unchanged by the replacement of letterpress by desktop publishing and digital prepress systems. The numerous intellectual skills of proof-readers are as vital today as they ever were, and few printed documents would ever be found acceptable by their potential purchasers and readers were it not for the typographic design process, whether it be carried out by a typographer, a graphic designer or by the originator or publisher of the document.

Thus, over the last half century the everyday work of commercial typographers has become increasingly intellectual as digital technology has come to dominate. For printers still using traditional letterpress techniques, however, the dual nature of typography – practical and intellectual – remains at the heart of their activities because of the inherent nature of typographical production. Likewise for printing museums because they not only have to explain the practical aspects of print production, they also have to exhibit and interpret a corpus of printed artefacts which is only intelligible when conceptualised and analysed over a long time span covering the different ages of typographical production, including the digital age.

Letterpress: out of industry and into museums

Today, letterpress printing no longer occupies a significant place within the graphic industries. In a sense it has moved out of the workshop and into the museum. The museum in question may be an actual museum, recognised as such, of which printing museums are the most obvious examples. It may a heritage workshop with an explicit mission to preserve and transmit the tangible and intangible heritage of printing. Or it may even be a commercial letterpress workshop – for despite the profound changes which the graphic industries have undergone in the last half-century, printing from manually or mechanically assembled lead type continues to occupy a variety of small, specialised and generally high-quality markets.

And as letterpress printing has become marginal in industrial terms it has become a source of attraction for museum visitors.

Why has this happened? Three reasons spring immediately to mind. The first is the speed at which letterpress vanished off the industrial stage. It is not very often that a five-hundred-year-old technology virtually disappears within the space of a generation. A second, probably more important reason is the fact that it wasn’t just any old technology: it was the one on which the cultures, democracies and economies of modern Europe were built. But perhaps the most important reason for the general increase in interest in typography is the democratisation of typography which has come with digital computers. Today, everyone does typography, whether they realise it or not. Since the mid-1980s, digital technologies have opened the way for a massive reorganisation of office document production and of the origination of texts destined to be printed, a reorganisation which has been seized upon and stimulated by administrations and enterprises for both economic and organisational reasons. Though the transformation of the typographical production process was initially resisted by the printing industry and was not always welcomed by administrative personnel, it has benefited from a certain degree of collusion on the part of many of those who have had to live with the consequences of new forms of work organisation based on the personal computer, if only because typography can be for many people a curiously gratifying, status-giving occupation in work environments in which administrative work is often downgraded and rendered largely invisible. Similarly, typographic production has spilled over into the personal sphere in the form of self-publishing, websites, blogs and so on. And as people have come to realise that they have become typographers of a sort, they have also become curious about where typography comes from, what it is, and why it exists in spite of – or perhaps because of – the almost total indifference of the educational system to the teaching of typography. Nowadays, almost everyone who owns or regularly uses a computer has an opinion about Times New Roman, Helvetica and whether texts should be justified or not.

One of the results of this profound change in the accessibility and modalities of typographical production has been that for printing museums the advent of the personal computer and digital media has increased the general public’s curiosity with respect to what was previously an arcane activity reserved for a small number of specialised professionals. And in so doing, it has offered a unique opportunity for printing museums to speak to new audiences.

It has also obliged printing museums to consider how they might exploit this new-found curiosity for typography.

Exhibiting and doing typography in museums

One of principle characteristics of typography is that it is perfectly invisible for most readers. Generally speaking, it facilitates reading and the transmission of the message carried by the text. Only occasionally, in relatively exceptional circumstances, does it call attention to itself. As a result, a large part of printing museums’ work in the field of typography is to render the invisible visible, to make visitors aware of what scribes and printers have in a sense been doing far from prying eyes for over two thousand years. For the uninitiated even something as basic and obvious for a professional as the fact that there are letters with serifs and letters without serifs, generally comes as a revelation.

And this is where the articulation of theory and practice becomes important, for if the practical aspects of typography are relatively easy to exhibit and demonstrate in museums, the more conceptual aspects of graphic production raise a certain number of difficulties. It is for this reason that printing museums have developed strategies over the last three decades to deal with the dual practical and conceptual nature of typography by exploiting the complementary activities of exhibitions and workshops, allowing visitors not only to look at the typographer’s tools, type and the products of printing in permanent or temporary exhibitions, but also to it themselves in the workshop.

Exhibitions offer a means of explaining and illustrating why and how traditional letterpress printing as it has developed over the centuries since Gutenberg’s time continues to exert an influence on today’s graphic culture. Though typographical production has been radically transformed with the advent of personal computers and digital media, the concepts and principles which were developed over the five centuries during which letterpress printing reigned supreme continue to inform and condition the everyday activities of today’s typographers, whether they be professional graphic designers or anyone else who uses a personal computer to assemble and present texts to be communicated to and read by others.

Exhibitions are a relatively simple means of explaining and illustrating the continuing influence of letterpress typography, whose basic concepts, vocabulary and forms have proved themselves remarkably resistant to the profound changes which printer’s type has undergone over the last century with the successive application of photographic, electronic and digital technologies. They give visitors an opportunity to discover a broad range of graphic heritage through the machines and tools of the typographer’s trade, as well as through a vast range of printed documents offering ,practical examples of the myriad uses of typography. Exhibitions offer a means of addressing complex subjects such as the impact of technological innovation on the development of print media, and the evolution of the economics and organisation of the printing trades from the artisanal, through industrial to post-industrial forms of production.

The technical artefacts of letterpress typography and printing are themselves visually attractive: metal type and wood letter are a source of fascination for a broad spectrum of the general public and visitors seldom resist the temptation to pick up type, weigh it in their hand and manipulate it as if it was a new and unexpected way of apprehending the alphabet and writing. Similarly, the extraordinary complexity and unique sounds of typesetting machines attract the attention of visitors of all ages, few if any of who have any real understanding of the principles on which they work.

Typographical documents can also be very attractive. Not all documents of course. An income tax form – soon to be a thing of the past – is considerably less attractive than a nineteenth-century theatre poster composed in a profusion of display types. A dictionary is less exciting than the front page of a newspaper the day war is declared. But a surprisingly wide range of predominantly typographical documents are considered attractive or interesting by a broad range of visitors, some for their purely visual attributes, some for their content, others for their venerable age or for the feelings of nostalgia which they are capable of producing.

Exhibitions have their limits however. Artefacts such as punches, matrices and casting devices can be intriguing from a technical point of view and are often aesthetically quite attractive. But understanding their use and significance usually requires fairly detailed written or spoken explanations. Complex typesetting machines such as the Linotype and Monotype are undoubtedly fascinating to look at, but for uninitiated visitors who have probably never stopped to think where type comes from and how it is made it is difficult to understand how such machines work and their significance for the development of print culture in the course of a brief encounter in an exhibition.

Because there is only so much visitors can assimilate by looking and reading as they walk round an exhibition, museums often have recourse to audio-guides or offer guided tours with a mediator who can draw attention to the most salient objects on display, explain their significance, and provide information in a more lively and interactive manner. Even better still are live demonstrations of techniques, the nature of which is difficult to discern by simply looking at artefacts or by reading written explanations. The typefounder’s mould is a typical example of an enigmatic object which comes alive and becomes immediately comprehensible as soon as one sees it in use. The typefounder’s mould also exemplifies a more general problem which printing museums have to face: the fact that some objects are easier to explain and understand than others or are simply easier to exhibit because more attractive. Few non-specialist visitors to printing museums understand how either the hand mould or a typesetting machine works, but a Linotype is guaranteed to attract the attention and admiration of the quasi-totality of visitors.

Letterpress typography, being a very material activity, is a case in point. The purpose and uses of lead type, whether from a foundry or a composing machine can be intuitively understood by anyone who has ever used a rubber stamp or a John Bull printing outfit. The dematerialisation which came with computerisation changed all that, however, as type, type-making and typography became an increasingly abstract business of bézier curves, algorithms, page description languages and networks. Lead type disappeared along with the complex machines which produced it, leaving in their place an endless succession of screens, keyboards and anonymous boxes which can only be distinguished most of the time by their colours.

In the absence of visually attractive objects such as type cases and Linotypes it becomes increasingly difficult to offer visitors an interesting display, and almost impossible to offer practical demonstrations of machines whose lifespan – i.e. the length of time they were actually in use before becoming obsolete and difficult to maintain – has become ever shorter since the middle of the twentieth century. As the focus of manufacturers of typesetting equipment, and of typographers themselves, has moved from mechanics to electronic circuits and programmes, the need to explain the impact of the digital revolution on the dematerialisation of type and the democratisation of its social uses has become ever more urgent. For it raises both theoretical and practical problems: those raised by the conceptualisation and construction of narratives which are accessible for non-specialists; and those which result from the fact that the understanding of such narratives by visitors requires time and concentration, both of which are at a premium in exhibitions in which the reading and assimilation of information is generally done standing up. For make no mistake, exhibitions are hard work!

In the best of all possible worlds, demonstrations offer a means of getting around the ergonomic problems which are inherent to exhibitions. By their nature they are dynamic and when conducted by a mediator they actively solicit the attention and participation of the visitor. As a result, demonstrations of hand and mechanical typesetting and letterpress printing are commonplace in printing museums – all the more so because the equipment which they require are still relatively easy to find maintain and it is still possible to find people with the skills necessary to keep them running. Mechanical typesetting is becoming increasingly problematic however as the last generation of professional hot-metal typesetters steps down, though various initiatives by printing museums and heritage workshops have demonstrated that the effective transmission of the necessary skills is possible.

The most intractable difficulties arise with the modern period because the electronic devices on which demonstrations depend are notoriously difficult to restore and maintain in an operational state as compared with their mechanical equivalents. And even when the hardware can be made to work, there is still the question of obsolete operating systems and programmes which pose problems of another order. With the result that active displays on the screens of typesetting and such like machines as part of an exhibition are generally extremely difficult to organise and generally require the expertise of technologists specialised in paleocomputing.

Discovering by doing: workshops

In printing museums, the natural complement to the exhibition is the practical workshop which is better adapted to explaining the importance and subtleties of typography. Indeed, in many museums the workshop is the exhibition.

Visitors of all ages love to handle metal and wood type, furniture, ink and paper, and to experience the moment when the printed sheet of paper comes off the press. Usually they are perfectly at ease with the principle of relief printing and time does the rest. Spending an hour or two assembling type by hand in a letterpress workshop and printing it on a proof or hand press, raises many questions quite spontaneously, often concerning quite obscure aspects of alphabets, letterforms and the uses and connotation of type. The discussions which ensue can be invaluable in making palpable the link between the traditions of letterpress and how people handle text on computers. Unfortunately, time is usually limited. Most workshops last for only an hour or two. Less commonly a day or two, or even a week. But even the briefest of workshops allows visitors to handle the artefacts and the tools of the printer, to smell the ink and perhaps get their hands dirty, to appreciate the materiality of letterpress printing and get a glimpse of the origins and complexities of typography in general.

The difficulties arise when it comes to integrating more recent technologies into workshop activities in order to explore the contribution of five hundred years of letterpress to contemporary graphic communication. Various technical solutions exist for combining letterpress with digital. Hand type composition and proofing can fit easily with scanning and electronic page make-up but require small groups, sufficient space and computers. Desktop publishing techniques have been experimented with letterpress, but usually as part of longer-term workshop activities because of time constraints. Techniques also exist to make a wide range of relief blocks – from the simplest to the most sophisticated – from digital files, but such systems tend to be expensive and so beyond the means of many printing museums. The Risograph – a kind of digital duplicator offering numerous creative possibilities not dissimilar to silkscreen printing – has also opened up new perspectives for creative expression and educational activities in museum workshops.

Generally speaking, however, the principal limiting factors on such activities are the constraints imposed by school timetables and the economics of group visits and courses. School visits are usually too short for hybrid activities to be an option. Activities lasting several days are particularly interesting but require considerable preparation on the part of both teachers and mediators with the result that they quickly become relatively costly if they are to be sustainable for the museum. As a result they are often reserved for adults who can commit themselves over a longer period or students of graphic design and communication, or humanities students who for their studies of literature or history for whom a knowledge of the rudiments of letterpress printing is invaluable for bibliographic studies. There is also a demand on the part of art students interested in exploring more material forms of creative typography, but lacking the material resources to do so, letterpress printing having been largely forgotten of a generation or more.

Extending collections in digital times

Before concluding, a word should perhaps be said about the problems raised by the inclusion of digital artefacts in printing museums’ collections. For the moment, many printing museums deliberately limit their field of interest to letterpress printing or other traditional techniques and do not actively seek to preserve the tools or products of digital printing and graphic communication which they consider – often for perfectly sound reasons – to be beyond their remit. Indeed, the collection, conservation and exploitation of digital artefacts raises many serious questions. Not least of all concerning the very definition of what constitutes ‘graphic heritage’. Can we simply talk about ‘printing’ in the age of digital prepress, desktop publishing and digital media? The larger notion of graphic communication has already invited itself to the debate in the form of graphic design which is represented in one form or another in many printing museums. But what about office document production and the mass of grey literature, some of it highly sophisticated typographically speaking, which is generated by every conceivable form of administrative, commercial, industrial and financial activity? And what about the unstoppable wave of both paper-based and on-line self-publishing?

Even the collection of computer-based typographical tools is problematic if only because they have become increasingly commonplace with the result it seldom occurs to anyone – their original users or those in charge of museums’ collections – that they might be worth preserving. The vast majority of photo and computer typesetting systems from the early days of the digital revolution have been almost entirely lost, sent to the scrap heap as soon as they were replaced by a new generation of technology with the result that some of the most technologically significant machines are now only known by the documentation which has survived. And even when by some miracle such machines have been preserved they are generally extremely difficult to exploit because the basic technologies of which they are examples – such as relay logic or early transistors and integrated circuits – have disappeared off the map, and because of the speed at which programmes and operating systems have evolved over the last seventy-odd years.

As for the documents produced by digital techniques and work processes the printed versions are still relatively easy to collect and most printing museums will have examples in their collections. That said, their ubiquity and often commonplace nature often militates against the systematic collection and preservation of the most significant or representative examples, repeating a schema which is all too familiar for historians interested in printed ephemera of the nineteenth century and especially of the pre-industrial age.

However, the difficulties involved in the preservation of printed documents representative of contemporary modes of production are nothing as compared with those raised by the conservation of native digital graphic products. It could be argued that museums of printing and graphic communication are ‘lucky’ in that their focus is on the relatively limited graphic aspects of digital media and only rarely are they concerned by their content. However, the systems and infrastructures required to archive such material, even on a small scale, are sophisticated, expensive and well beyond the means of any existing printing museum that might consider the conservation of such documents to be within its remit. For the moment at least, only the very largest national institutions have the financial means and technical expertise necessary to envisage such programmes.

To complicate matters further, digital media have rendered definitively obsolete the conventional definitions of graphic production which had already been seriously undermined by the democratisation of the means of production, reproduction and distribution of texts and images by the explosive growth of office document production, desktop publishing and digital networks. Graphic heritage organisations now have to face the difficult task of redefining their missions and collections in an age when printing and graphic production are no longer the monopoly, or even the prerogative, of printers and publishers.

A final category of heritage material which is in danger of disappearing is that of the intermediate working documents generated by the processes of graphic production. Such documents are particularly valuable for they are essential if we are to have a full understanding of the development and implementation of new techniques and of the constant economic and organisational restructuring of the graphic industries and of the ways in which graphic production has come to permeate a vast array of seemingly unrelated activities in contemporary society. Unfortunately, such documents have a very low survival rate as they are often dematerialised or at best survive only as PDFs which have an unfortunate tendency to find their way into the dustbin at the first opportunity. The fact is that few people care enough about, or get sufficiently attached to, such documents to care what will happen to them once they have passed their immediate shelf life. This trend began after the Second World War with the first all-electronic typesetting systems and has been gathering momentum ever since.

Should we be worried?

The uncertainties which currently surround the preservation of digital artefacts are not encouraging. Similarly, we should be wary of the assumption that digital graphic tools necessarily interest visitors to printing museums. Experimental hybrid letterpress/digital activities have considerable potential as mediation tools but they are not necessarily appreciated by all. Many visitors find letterpress printing interesting because it is old, practical and concrete. Some visitors are attracted by it precisely because it does not use a keyboard and a screen. Today, nearly two generations are accustomed to working with computers which have become utterly commonplace, not what they would go to a museum to see! Similarly, it would appear that many younger people who have only ever known digital graphic tools are beginning to feel a certain digital fatigue at the thought of spending their entire creative potential on a two-dimensional computer screen and are turning their attention to revisiting and sometime even reinventing, material processes such as silkscreen printing, letterpress and engraving which had been marginalised in the closing decades of last century.

The place to be accorded in printing museums’ collections to documents designed and printed using digital tools also raises many questions concerning the choice of what should be preserved, how such documents should be catalogued and conserved, and to what end they might be displayed. What are the specificities of such documents and are they discernible by a non-specialist audience? Digital tools have transformed graphic production in many ways: by facilitating the production of technically complex documents, by reducing their cost, by creating new possibilities for their personalisation, and by giving them a multi-support existence. But how can such changes be rendered, if not visible, at least intelligible for a broad public? For many years – in the early, pioneering days of digital technologies – it was common to talk about ‘digital typography’ and the term has already been used in the present article. While it would be wrong to underestimate the impact of digital technologies on the manufacture and use of type, and the specificities of each era in the development of typography, it is perhaps worth keeping in mind the words of the late Fernand Baudin who, as a typographer-historian, was fond of pointing out that there is no digital typography, no more that there was ever an electric typography or a gas typography. There is only typography. And as we all know, typography is remarkably adaptable and resistant to the vagaries of time and technology!

Despite all the difficulties which the transformation of the graphic industries presents for heritage organisations, it is not unreasonable to end on an optimistic note. For it is undeniable that the digital revolution has opened up new possibilities for museums of printing and graphic communication. The interest in typography which has been stimulated by the appropriation of sophisticated typographical tools by people of all walks of life for professional or personal use beyond the confines of the established printing and publishing industries has already been mentioned. Many visitors are keen to learn about the traditions of the printing trades because they are often, to borrow a phrase from Shakespeare, ‘typographers by any other name’. The traditions of printing inform their day-to-day use of the sophisticated typographical tools – superior to those of a medium-sized printing office in the 1950s – that the most ordinary personal computer offers as a standard feature. The fact that they belong, however distantly, to the noble tradition which goes back to Gutenberg can lend a certain aura to their modest, previously inadvertent, efforts as a ‘typographer’.

As for printing museums, ‘digital heritage’ is a novelty which they will have to appropriate and learn to exploit. And for the moment it is still early days.


[Header illustration: Lumitype 550 phototypesetting system on display in the Atelier-musée de l’imprimerie, Maleherbes, France. Photo: A. Marshall.]