Houston’s Museum of Printing History was founded in 1979 by Raoul Beasley, Vernon P. Hearn, Don Piercy, and J. V. Burnham, four printers with a passion for preserving their various printing-related collections and sharing them with the community. Chartered in 1981 the Museum had its official opening in 1982 with Dr. Hans Halaby, Director of the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany, cutting the ribbon. The mission of the Museum is to promote, preserve, and share the knowledge of printed communication and art as the greatest contributors to the development of the civilized world and the continuing advancement of freedom and literacy. It does this through an active, on-going exhibitions program, and a series of book arts workshops (The museum suffered a fire a year or two ago, but it appears that things are now back to normal).
I met with Museum Curator Amanda Stevenson to talk about the collection. During our conversation she delivers a very informative thumb-nail sketch of how relief and intaglio printing techniques work. Listen here
More recently I visited the tiny Musee de la Typographie in Tours, France. While it may be small, it’s full of all sorts of different kinds of old printing equipment and tools, typefaces, woodcuts and handmade paper. The owner/manager is incredibly enthusiastic about the enterprise. Muriel Méchin lovingly toured me through his museum, showing me, among other things, a compositor tool called a Moule à Arçon a hand-held individual character casting device that was a forerunner of the Monotype machine. He actually let me handle some of the exhibited items, something most museums forbid. Here’s my conversation with Jean Louis Maitre.
Victor Hugo lived on the second floor of the Hôtel de Rohan-Guéménée in Paris from 1832 to 1848. He wrote some of his major works here, including a large part of Les Misérables…and received, among many friends, Lamartine, Vigny, Dumas, and Gautier, along with other noted writers and artists. But he didn’t just dine with them. Apparently he had peepholes installed into guest bedrooms so he could watch their amorous activities. Hugo in fact did more than watch. His mistress Juliet estimated that in one two year period he had sex with more than 200 different women.
The 5/6 room apartment at Place des Vosges presents three separate periods in Hugo’s life: before, during and after exile in Guernsey. You’ll find displays of the gothic furniture he designed, family portraits, memorabilia and some astonishing interior decoration he designed during his exile. There are temporary exhibitions of his photographs and drawings, and first editions of various famous books he wrote. A library is open to the public by appointment. The museum organizes talks in the apartment, and provides guided tours. Plus, entry is free. A visit here gives you a sense of what a multi-talented colossus the man was!
Better known for its wines, the perfection of its local spoken French, its cathedral and chateau, the city of Tours France also has a surprisingly rich historical connection with printing and typography. I was in Tours recently and visited the Musee de la Typographie.
It may be small, but it’s full of all sorts of different kinds of old printing equipment and tools, typefaces, woodcuts and handmade paper. As one visitor put it:
“Muriel Méchin, the owner takes you on a personal discovery tour of his museum, including printing off some examples for you to take home on a press from the 1800s. I have been to many printing museums, but this is the first I have found that contains compositors tools such as the Moule à Arçon, a hand-held individual character casting device, that was the forerunner of the mechanical Monotype and Linotype machines hundreds of years later.You can actually handle many of the exhibits which most museums forbid.
Muriel has published a very informative book which we were able to purchase; it is chock full of historical information and illustrated with photos and drawings explaining the history of a most interesting industry that goes back many hundreds of years. The museum is free.”
Since Muriel doesn’t speak English, I sat down with his colleague Jean Louis Maitre to talk about the museum and the fascinating printing history of the region.
If you like English spoken with a thick French accent, you’ll love listening to Jean Louis.
Marcel Proust’s aunt and uncle, Elizabeth and Jules Amiot, lived at No. 4 rue du Saint-Esprit (subsequently renamed rue du Dr. Proust after Proust’s father) now a museum, in Illiers-Combray (the only town in France to have been renamed after a fictional village). This house was where young Marcel stayed with his family and the one he recreated, with all of its complicated associations, in A la Recherche du temps Perdu.
No visit to Illiers-Combray is complete without first reading George Painter’s masterful biography Marcel Proust,. ’At Illiers’, he writes,
‘…the church and grey street and gardens of Combray are there for all to see; the village spires perform their strange movements, the two ways of rolling plain and narrow river lead for ever in opposite directions, and nevertheless meet. In the real topography of Illiers the mysterious significance of the symbolical landscape of Combray was already latent.’
With Painter’s help the motivated Literary Tourist can find the streets, houses, gardens and walks which constitute such an integral part of the Proustian maize. He or she can even eat madeleines, which for centuries have been made here in the shape of scallop shells, because Illiers was on the route to the shrine of St. James of Compostella in Spain, and the pilgrims wore shells on their hats.
The young Proust came frequently to Illiers, visiting regularly until he reached his teens, at which point education and bad health took him elsewhere, often for long stays by the sea, in Beg-Meil and Cabourg. In 1902 he returned on his own to look at the church of St. Jacques through the eyes of John Ruskin, whose writings on architecture had impressed him deeply.
For information on visiting Combray, check out the Office de Tourism de Combray here.