The ‘Historische drukkerij’ is a cosy printing museum in Turnhout – Belgium. The Dutch term ‘historische’ is pretty similar to its English equivalent ‘historical’. That is exactly what this museum does: it provides visitors with an insight in printing as it was done during the 19th and the early 20th century. The (Dutch) website of the museum provides interesting background information, pictures and diagrams of some of the equipment that is on display.
The museum is only opened one weekend per month but during these occasions, you actually get to see the machinery and tools in action. This includes casting type, which is done with some molten lead and the tools shown below. The city of Turnhout is known for its printers that are specialized in producing playing cards. In the picture below there is a ‘clubs’ shaped brass letterform matrix to the right.
There is a nice ‘Typograph’ typesetter in the collection. Notice the little springs underneath each key. To change from one typeface to another, a typesetter needed a mere two hours to swap out all the type!
Typesetting music must have been even more difficult than typesetting regular text. As you can see the text and the score are set wrong-reading. It isn’t too difficult to see that this example was most likely part of a book of religious songs.
In those days newspapers didn’t have any pictures on their cover. This example is from ‘De Standaard’, a newspaper that still exists today. Notice the tools in the background, such as the wooden hammer which is used to make sure that none of the slugs (lines of type) stick out.
The museum houses a few presses including this Marinoni ‘Presse Universelle’, which originally was powered by a steam engine. During the visit, we got to see this press in action. It runs remarkably well for a machine that is over 100 years old.
The other press that we saw in action was this Alauzet & Tiquet, a copy of a Koenig & Bauer cylinder press from 1835. This particular type remained in production until the end of the 19th century. With two kids busy turning the main drive wheel, one press operator loading each sheet of paper by hand and another to take care of ink and other stuff, around 800 prints per hour can be made.
I had a little chat with the owner of the museum and asked him if the old presses still work well with modern ink. Apparently, it is a bit of a problem because the characteristics of inks for highspeed offset presses are indeed different. Fortunately ink can be kept for a long time and the museum has a large stock of it.
This poster caught my eye not just because of its nice use of color but also because it advertised for the Juli fair at the village next to where I live. It was printed in the 1920’s.
Of course work doesn’t stop once a job is printed. Pages still have to go through the bindery and finishing. Instead of showing one of the guillotine cutters from the museum’s collection, here is a stack of books that still need a bit of time before they can be shipped to the customer.
If you like such photographs check out the other pages with pictures of printing museums.