Before the invention of letterpress printing by the German Johannes Gutenberg, early in the fifteenth century, written words were painstakingly committed to page with pens by scribes; a process so slow that, inevitably, books, and consequently literacy, were the privilege of the few. Letterpress, whilst still time-consuming by modern standards, was a comparatively quick process, and once the type was set and the press ready to roll, multiple near-identical copies of the same page could be made almost ad infinitum. Letterpress was perhaps the first industrial process, and its invention paved the way for an explosion in the distribution of the written word, and undoubtedly hastened the world that we live in today. Letterpress is no longer big business, but its allure still remains. A new generation of designers and readers, brought up on computers, have become fascinated by the humanity of the process and the warmth of its results.
Founded over twenty years ago in the heart of South London, the Type Archive brings together the collected artefacts of the three major players in British type manufacturing history: the Stephenson and Blake foundry, latterly of Sheffield, although originally existing as the William Caslon foundry in the City of London; the Monotype Corporation, in London and Salfords, Surrey; and the De Little wood type manufacturer, in York. The importance of this holy trinity of companies cannot be overestimated: not only are they of national interest, they also had international influence well beyond the borders of the former British Empire. The collections serve as an inspiration and as a resource, not only to designers and academics alike, but also to those interested in the history and complexities of written language.
On Saturday the twelfth of May, 2018, the archive will open its doors to a limited number of Rare Books London visitors. On this day the archive’s staff will guide visitors through the collections and will demonstrate a range of processes, from casting type through to letterpress printing. Visitors will also have the chance to do some printing themselves. Refreshment will be provided.
The cost of the day is set at £25
Image provided by Jamie Pearson.