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Technology Of The Past, Preserved For The Future

Ever see something that is tailor-made for you, something that speaks to your very existence, and yet you know that you just can’t? Glenn Fleishman has dropped such a thing in my lap.

I may have mentioned, once or twice, that I am fascinated by type. When traveling in the Low Countries on vacation years ago, I made it a point to include Antwerp on the itinerary solely so that I could visit the Plantin-Moretus Museum, where a guy named Christophe Plantin worked with typefaces designed by Claude Garamond whose beauty have not been exceeded in the past half-millennium. His son in law Jan Moretus (and his descendants) kept the type foundry/printing company going, a place so key to the history of the written word in the modern world that it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Fleishman’s looked at the history of type, and noticed that while there are well-established and stable museums like the Plantin-Moretus, much of the historical artifacts of moveable type are in collections that have tenuous funding and may end up inaccessible to scholars, artists, and craftspeople in the future. Or hell, one fire could destroy a significant portion of the world’s history of type.

To distribute things of historical import and beauty, to ensure that examples of the craft are spread far and wide, to help guarantee that a single loss will not be crippling Fleishman has designed a mini museum of type, with historical artifacts as well as newly-commissioned examples of type in various materials.

There will be up to 100 iterations of this museum (with 60 on offer at Kickstarter, no two exactly alike), each packaged into a box approximately 15x15x30cm, with a letterpress book acting as the docent to the museum. It’s a tremendous amount of work, several labors of love, and will go for US$1000 and it’s a godsdammned bargain and I just can’t justify it but I very much want to spend a long time exploring one.

Which is not to say that I won’t be getting in on the campaign.

I was probably in college by the time I remembered an incident from when I was very young — four or five, maybe. My grandfather took me to his place of work one day, in Lower Manhattan. He sat me on his lap at a big metal machine with many keys on it, in a vast, clattering, too-warm room. He pressed my fingers down on keys one at a time — G A R … — and after a bit pulled a large lever.

There was some noise, and then in a little tray, a piece of metal 10 or 12cm long, warm to the touch. I could make out the letters which spelled my name, but they were wrong … backwards. He showed me how I could press the backwards letters onto an ink pad, then onto paper and see my name spelled out, with one L slightly too high.

I didn’t realize at the time that Linotype was a thing, or that it was a thing on its way out. I didn’t understand what the advent of hot metal typesetting would mean to printing and publishing. I was mildly upset when I lost that slug of type in a move a few years later, and very upset once I got older and realized what I’d lost.

But Fleishman’s thought of me personally, it seems. At the US$100 level, 500 people will get a freshly-cast slug of Linotype, with any brief text that they want. I can feel my grandfather nodding at me across nearly five decades, telling me that it won’t be the one he made me, but maybe just as good¹. If I bump up to US$200, I can also get the letterpress guide that will go with the museums.

There is nothing practical about any of this; nobody is going to letterpress anything out of the scattered artifacts in these museums. It’s instead an act of optimism, of preservation, drawing a line in the sand and saying this is our history, it’s significant, join me and preserve it². That act of safekeeping is itself Art.

The Tiny Type Museum and Time Capsule will be fundraising for the next 29 days. The ten early-bird museums have be snagged up, and as of this writing 49/50 of the full price copies remain available. It’s the sort of thing that only the well-off or obsessed can back, so I’m not suggesting that you pledge. But spread the word — something tells me that galleries and museums, letterpress operations and design firms might well want to take a look. I have to imagine that the folks over at Blambot would be interested. This is something that needs to succeed.

Spam of the day:

This method is something mechanics have used for years when you give them your old dead batteries. But now you can do this too because of this new video.

Jumper cables. You’re describing jumper cables.

¹ He’s also shaking his head wondering how a two-word slug could be valued at a hundo. From throwaway cheap to significant expense in a generation and a half — Linotype machines used to be commonplace, now they’re cranky rarities that artisans keep in working order because they can.

But you know what? If that’s the cost to subsidize the rest of the endeavour, it’s worth it.

² Which is remarkably similar to the discussions I had with the gallery director when I first started collecting Chuck Jones animation art. I absolutely believe I hold those images — Rikki Tikki Tavi and Kotick, Mowgli and Shere Khan, the Grinch and Max, the Dot and the Line — in trust for the future. Little slices of something larger, 1/24th second each, to be cared for and kept safe so that we don’t forget them.

While the lithography parts were interesting, my favorite part of the permanent collections of the Lyon Museum of Printing and Graphic Communication was clearly the typesetting machines, and how all the steps of the evolution from manual typesetting to today’s computer-based typesetting were clearly presented. It’s not France’s most significant type collection by any means, but it did fill in some gaps in my knowledge: my upbringing or studies never mentioned anything between lead and computers for instance. Glad that Mr. Fleishman (who I’ve followed for a long time from his Macworld days) is helping preserve this history too.

While we’re on the subject, I can’t wait for Unicode to finally include in emoji the full symbol swearing repertoire, or least what the Potty Mouth BB Blambot font supports.

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