The Relevant’s Graveyard

Frank Romano
Jul 8, 2015

Dig deep into any printing company, beyond the presses and paper storage, beyond the shredder and bundler, and somewhere in a dark corner you will probably find a junkyard of old computers, copiers, printers, and other machines. It is like a mothballed fleet that will never fly again.

Since the dawn of the electronic era, technology change has been rapid and relentless. Accelerated depreciation is now a fact of life. Yet, for hundreds of years, the technology of printing rarely changed. The other day I had a pack of cub scouts printing on an 1888 letterpress hand press. No electronics and no battery.

That brings me to preserving the past of the printing industry.

The Smithsonian replaced its printing exhibit with Julia Child’s kitchen, which left only three museums of printing in America: Carson, CA, Houston, TX, and The Museum of Printing in Haverhill, MA. The latter will soon move from North Andover, MA to its own building.

Haverill, MA: Future site of the Museum of Printing (Spring 2016)

For 37 years, The Friends of the Museum of Printing has consisted of a small group of dedicated New England volunteers who have preserved relevant artifacts of printing’s past-with no endowment. There is a giant Hoe Rotary Flatbed Press, the last Linotype ever built (1972), an Intertype Fotosetter (1949), one of the first color scanners (Hell, 1960s), and the only collection of phototypesetting machines in the world. Plus much more, including 3,000 boxes containing the drawings for every glyph in every US Linotype font ever released.

Hoe Rotary Flatbed Press (1890)

As an industry in transition, the last concern is an agglomeration of ancient heavy metal. Yet, every industry should preserve its heritage. What is old often becomes new again. There is a virtual renaissance of letterpress printing. Artists and hobbyists are acquiring table-top, platen, and Vandercook presses and producing beautiful work. A few years ago, InfoTrends produced its holiday card at the Museum of Printing.

InfoTrends 2013 holiday card

On Father’s Day, the Museum held its 11th Printing Arts Fair. Over 300 people came to see demonstrations of letterpress, stone lithography, intaglio printing, and more. As smiles spread across the faces of kids and adults, the volunteers found their reward.

Soon, over 50 tons of printing history will be moving 6.2 miles. It is a daunting task, but the result will be the largest and most comprehensive museum of the graphic arts in the world. It will contain a world-class library with over 5,000 books and a large collection of ephemera.

All of you reading this article deal with the most advanced printing technology. Think about it: someday that technology will be in a museum if there are still museums . . . or in some dark and dusty part of a printing plant.

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