Typography archives: offline

To print musical notes, page through Irma Boom’s books, and see the first ever printed document

November 2, 2023

We sell digital fonts and report on how technology can help deal with these fonts as well as use our @tomorrow.type.today Instagram As some members of our team are living in Russia we have to follow the Russian law. According to the law, every time we post links to Instagram or Facebook we have to mention the fact that these socials belong to Meta, which was recognized as extremist by the Ministry of Justice if the Russian Federation to share projects by young designers you might want to subscribe to. That said, we consider it important not to limit ourselves to just following the contemporary processes and address the history of type and typography as well — look into metal type, old specimens and books, exploring and explaining their heritage when it comes to modern typefaces. In this piece, we would like to tell you about the archives that can help do that. For instance, certain museums from our selection display Adrian Frutiger’s sketches and lead type for runic printing, but you will have to go to Leipzig, Reading or Tokio as those institutions don’t have any digital collections yet.

Musée de l’Imprimerie et de la Communication Graphique (Museum of Printing and Graphic Communication)

Where: Lyon, France
Website: imprimerie.lyon.fr

The earliest exhibits from this museum’s collection date back to the 15th century, when Lyon was one of the world centres of book printing, and the most recent items belong to the late 20th century, the arrival of the first digital fonts. The permanent collection features examples of machinery for all the various printing techniques such as metal and photo typesetting while the archives store a large number of posters, books, and newspapers.

In addition to the items retrieved from archives, next year’s temporary exhibition will showcase a number of storyboards by animator Hayao Miyazaki and some sketches by poet Emily Dickinson.

The museum is open from Wednesday to Saturday. If you’re in a wheelchair, make sure you notify of your visit in advance as the museum is not equipped with a lift.

30 Le Livre de quatre couleurs, Louis-Antoine de Caraccioli, 1760

31 Théâtre National Populaire posters, Marcel Jacno, 1953

Calipso typeface, Roger Excoffon, 1958


Where: Mainz, Germany
Website: mainz.de

The Gutenberg Museum stores the incunabula that inspired Johannes Gutenberg, two copies of the Gutenberg Bible and a reconstruction of his workshop with still functioning printing presses of the 15th century. When a team of enthusiasts initiated opening a museum in 1900, German libraries began gifting books from their archives to Mainz (and they still do that). That’s how the museum acquired a decent collection of graphic design of the last six centuries, where books illustrated by Albrecht Dürer stay next to the specimens by Rudolf Koch and works by Irma Boom. A part of the collection is available to page through in the reading room.

The museum goes beyond researching European printing and typography: through close cooperation with museums in Japan, China and South Korea, they brought together a collection of East Asian manuscripts and books of the 8-19th centuries.

The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, with its library accessible from Tuesday to Friday.

1 The Book of Apocalypse, 1463. Photo: d.bachert

2 The Gutenberg Bible, 1455 Photo: d.bachert

3 L’illustration, 1934, and Pinguin, 1947, newspapers’ covers

4 Exlibris by Franz Marc and Heinrich Meier, 1900s

Printing Museum

Where: Tokyo, Japan
Website: printing-museum.org

The most part of the museum’s general exhibition covers the history of printing in Japan — books and prints are provided with extensive commentary, descriptions of printing processes and, in some cases, the equipment itself. The collection includes European books of the 16-19th centuries, an immense photo scanner produced back in 1950, and the first ever printed document (the 18th century).

The museum is open all week except Monday. It also hosts workshops on metal and wooden type printing, linocut printmaking, intaglio printing and phototypesetting (held from Thursday to Sunday).

5 Oratio Dominica, Giambattista Bodoni, 1806

6 Yamato honzō (Yamato’s book), Kaibara Ekiken, 1710s

7 Gakumon no Susume (An encouragement of learning), 1871

Museum für Druckkunst (Museum of Printing Arts)

Where: Leipzig, Germany
Website: druckkunst-museum.de

This Leipzig-based museum displays a number of operating printing tools produced in the 19th century and even typefaces supporting kanji, cuneiform, and runes. Furthermore, the museum’s team has done a lot of research on the history of music printing and techniques of notation used through the centuries — the participants of a workshop are even invited to print musical notes with lead type. At the end of the 20th century, Edith Holm and Irmgard Meyenberg closed their bookbindery shop and donated their entire equipment to the museum, so it now hosts bookbindery art workshops as well.

Unlike most museums, this one is closed on Saturday and not on Sunday.

8 Matrices for typesetting machine, XIX century. Photo: Klaus Sonntag

9 Wooden letters, XIX century. Photo: Klaus Sonntag

Stop typeface, Walter Höhnisch, 1939

Leipziger Antiqua typeface, Albert Kapr, 1971

Huis van het Boek (The Museum of the Book)

Where: the Hague, the Netherlands
Website: huisvanhetboek.nl

The Museum of the Book is housed in the former mansion of baron van Westreenen van Tiellandt, a collector who lived in the 19th century. Like many collectors of that time, the baron had an interest in the old times, so the museum boasts a huge amount of mediaeval handwritten manuscripts, but not only that. The museum seeks to explore the modern experimental book, too, displaying both the encyclopaedia the size of a matchbox and the projects by artists who only perceive the book as a format, such as a paper labyrinth by Margit Rijnaard.

15 Bestiary, 1450

16 Rijmbijbel (Rhymed Bible), Jacob van Maerlant, 1271

17 Paper labyrinth, Margit Rijnaard, 2003

18 Coal Trading Association Anniversary Book, Irma Boom, 1996

ANRT Archive

Where: Nancy, France
Website: anrt-nancy.fr

L’Atelier National de Recherche Typographique is a research course for type designers at the ENSAD arts school. One of L’Atelier premises is equipped with a typesetting workshop and a number of works, sketches and drafts by Adrian Frutiger and Hans Hunziker on display.

The archive does not function as a museum, yet you can contact the dean of the faculty at thomas.huot-marchand@anrt-nancy.fr and arrange a visit.

Brancher typeface sketches, Adrian Frutiger, Hans Hunziker, 1972

24 Typographic Monthly Papers, #4, Hans Hunziker, 1985, and Frutiger typeface sketches, Adrian Frutiger, Hans Hunziker, 1938

The University of Reading Archive

where: Reading, UK
Website: reading.ac.uk

This archive is primarily intended for university students and professors, but it is accessible for anyone upon prior arrangement — all you need to do is reach out to its curator (e.h.minns@reading.ac.uk).

On top of English text books and type specimens of the 19-20th centuries, the archive holds metal and wood type for printing in Arabic, Thai, and Devanagari, as well as an extensive isotype collection gifted to the university by designers Otto and Marie Neurath.

British ABC-book, 1850s

27 Greeting telegram, UK, 1931