My Pilgrimage to the Museum of Printing

Matt Swain
May 17, 2010

A few weeks ago, I took advantage of a rainy Saturday morning and visited the Museum of Printing. At one point over the last year, I had promised Frank Romano that I would make the pilgrimage. After driving through the sleepy town of North Andover, MA, I arrived at a colonial brick building with a bell tower and a sign out front that indicated I had arrived. I noticed the weather vane on top of the bell tower had what looked like a cat on it — I was expecting Gutenberg.

I was a few minutes early, and surprised to find five cars in the parking lot already. As I walked through the door, it was only fitting to see Frank’s beaming face. “Hi Matt, you are just in time to join the tour that I am giving for Hesser College!” I had unwittingly walked in on Frank in one of his favorite personas — Professor Romano.

We immediately began the tour, walking over to one of the latest editions to the museum, a model of a Common Press from the late-1700s very similar to the press that Benjamin Franklin would have used. Frank explained that it had arrived in pieces, and the only way they were able to figure out how to assemble it was by using an assembly manual they had found from 1682. I wonder if someone will have similar success in finding an assembly manual for the iGen4 some 325 years from now. In honor of Benjamin Franklin, the Common Press was set up to print his famous Fish House Punch recipe. It bears mention that my colleagues had sampled this concoction at an RIT Alumni event a few days earlier at Frank’s house and reported that the next day at work was notably “fuzzy.”

From here, we went upstairs to a lecture room where I felt like I was sitting down to one of Frank’s classes at RIT again. This lecture was entitled “The Roman Letter.” After leading out with a history on the serif, Frank moved into Charlemagne and the lower case letter, Gutenberg and the 292 glyphs in his typeface, and fun facts like:

  • The “italic” font was named so because it was first done in Italy.
  • Stephen Day, a locksmith, was the first person to set up and run a printing press in the United States. Ironically, he couldn’t read.
  • One of the proposed origins of the phrase “mind your p’s and q’s” came from the early days of typesetting where all letters and characters were manually placed and appeared in reverse.
  • All of the letters of the word “typewriter” appear in the second row of the keyboard — coincidence? Frank says no.

Somewhere in the middle of the lecture, Frank looked at two of the whispering students and said “I’m going to have to move you over there if you keep it up. I have very good ears.” Professor Romano was in full character. As the knowledgeable professor closed his lecture, he presented an image of the HP T-300 Inkjet Web Press to show how far the industry has come from Gutenberg’s first modified cheese press. Looking at the image of this futuristic press in near shock, one of the audience members probed “so there are no plates in there???” We’ve come a long way.

We continued a narrated tour of the vast collection of printing and imaging equipment through the ages. John Adams and Ray Deschamps (President of Deschamps Printing Company), two museum volunteers, had started up a linotype press and a Ludlow so we could see them in action. Not only is he learning how to become the 201stperson to know how to run a linotype press, John joked, but he is also the museum’s lawyer. One of the greatest parts of experiencing the museum is that it is run by volunteers who love print.

I would encourage you to make the trip to the Museum of Printing if you are ever in the greater Boston area. They are open most Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and it doesn’t take too much luck to get a personal tour from Frank Romano himself — he is there whenever he isn’t traveling. Regardless of your tour guide, the staff is knowledgeable and committed to education with a touch of humor. I will certainly be back.

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