© CEphoto, Uwe Aranas
I never visit the Plantin Museum at Antwerp without feeling that I have come closer to the master-printers and their ideals. Here is the only great printing establishment of the past that time and the inroads of man have left intact. The beauty of the building, the harmony of the surroundings, the old portraits, the comfort yet the taste shown in the living-rooms, – all show that the artist-printer sought the same elements in his life that he expressed in his work. Entering from the Marche du Vendredi, I find myself face to face with a small tablet over the door on which is the device of Christophe Plantin, “first printer to the King, and the king of printers.” Here the familiar hand, grasping a pair of compasses, reaches down from the clouds, holding the compasses so that one leg stands at rest while the other describes a circle, enclosing the legend Labore et Constantia. Within the house one finds the actual type and presses, and designs by Rubens and other famous artists, that were employed in making the Plantin books. The rooms in which the master-printer lived make his personality very real. In those days a man’s business was his life, and the home and the workshop were not far separated. Here the family life and the making of books were so closely interwoven that the visitor can scarcely tell where one leaves off and the other begins.
William Dana Orcutt, In Quest of the Perfect Book (Little Brown, 1926)
Go here for visitor information on Antwerp.
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.
For information on visiting Tour, click here.